Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf
Silver Spring, Maryland
The Lord's Supper Series Index

#3.  Corinthian Confusion
...over the union in communion
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The Bible's most important teaching about the Lord's Supper is found in Paul's response to some serious confusion that Christians in Corinth had.  Today we learn about ways the Corinthians abused the Lord's Supper and what the Lord's Supper means for Christian unity.

The Old Testament Lesson    Micah 6:6-8
You say, "What can I bring with me
    when I come before the LORD,
    when I bow before God on high?
Should I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with year-old calves?
Will the LORD be pleased with a thousand male sheep?
    Will he be pleased with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Should I give my first child for the evil I have done?
    Should I give my very own child for my sin?"
The LORD has told you, human, what is good;
    he has told you what he wants from you:
to do what is right to other people,
    love being kind to others,
    and live humbly, obeying your God.   (New Century Version)

The Epistle Lesson    1 Corinthians 11:17-22, 33-34
    In the things I tell you now I do not praise you, because when you come together you do more harm than good.  First, I hear that when you meet together as a church you are divided, and I believe some of this.  (It is necessary to have differences among you so that it may be clear which of you really have God’s approval.)  When you come together, you are not really eating the Lord’s Supper.  This is because when you eat, each person eats without waiting for the others. Some people do not get enough to eat, while others have too much to drink.  You can eat and drink in your own homes! You seem to think God’s church is not important, and you embarrass those who are poor. What should I tell you? Should I praise you? I do not praise you for doing this...
    So my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for each other.  Anyone who is too hungry should eat at home so that in meeting together you will not bring God’s judgment on yourselves.

The Gospel Lesson    Matthew 5:21-24
    "You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, 'You must not murder anyone. Anyone who murders another will be judged.'  But I tell you, if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be judged. If you say bad things to a brother or sister, you will be judged by the council. And if you call someone a fool, you will be in danger of the fire of hell.
    "So when you offer your gift to God at the altar, and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there at the altar. Go and make peace with that person, and then come and offer your gift."

Christians love to eat!  We seem to have our best church attendance when we serve food.  The Christians in Corinth, Greece, were no different.  They went where food was served.  And in the Scriptures that we read last week, we saw that many Corinthians didn't mind if it was a meal served at the pagan temple (1 Corinthians 10:14-21).  They ignored the fact that the meat served there had been dedicated in sacrifice to idols.  Since an idol is nothing, they saw no problem in eating that meat.  Technically, they were correct.  But idols represent demons -- evil spirits that serve Satan.  The meat offered at the pagan temples were dedicated to demons. 

To correct this carelessness, Paul compared the pagan sacrificial meal to the Lord's Supper.  How can a believer who has eaten the Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper now go over to the pagan temple to eat meat of demons?

We give thanks for the cup of blessing, which is a sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread that we break is a sharing in the body of Christ... You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons also. You cannot share in the Lord's table and the table of demons.  Are we trying to make the Lord jealous? We are not stronger than he is, are we?  (1 Corinthians 10:16, 20-21)

When we have giving our lives to Christ, how can we then go back to our old ways to serve Satan? 

The Corinthian love of food led them to abuse the Lord's Supper in another way.  Not only did they bring shame to themselves by the way they behaved outside the church, they committed an even greater offense in the church, in the way the celebrated the Lord's Supper.

They didn't have the Lord's Supper during worship, as we do.  They made the Lord's Supper part of the fellowship meal after worship.  Normally we call that meal "pot luck," but the Corinthians were not sharing the food that they brought to the dinner!

When you come together, you are not really eating the Lord’s Supper.  This is because when you eat, each person eats without waiting for the others. Some people do not get enough to eat, while others have too much to drink [and they become drunk!]... and you embarrass those who are poor.  (1 Corinthians 11:20-22)

Why did they do that?  Because that's what happened in Greek society. 
Important people received more attention. 
People in lower classes -- poor people, servants, and slaves -- don't pay attention to them.

That was normal in community life.
That was normal in their culture.

And new Christians brought that attitude into the church fellowship.
They did not know that was wrong.
They did not know any different way of behaving.

Unity?  Their world did not have that.
Equality?  That was not necessary.
Division? That was normal in their world.
They thought that the church should copy the world.
"Important" and wealthy people believed that they deserved more respect than common folks.

So Paul answers:

If you want to feast and get drunk, stay home to do that!
Do you hate God's church?
Do you bring shame to people who have nothing?  (1 Cor. 11:22)

Their outward sin was division between Christians.  They were abusing each other.
But Paul knew that their deeper problem was against the body and blood of their Lord. 

Sometimes we call the Lord's Supper: "Communion."
Notice the last five letters of that word. UNION.
"Communion" is a combination of two words --
    CON = "together"  (as in our English word "common")  + UNION

The Lord's Supper expresses our unity together in Christ.
But the Corinthian divisions meant that they were abusing the Lord's Supper.

Paul wrote in chapter 10:

We give thanks for the cup of blessing, which is a sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread that we break is a sharing in the body of Christ.  Because there is one loaf of bread, we who are many are one body, because we all share that one loaf.    (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

In chapter 11, Paul emphasizes this point again by quoting Jesus' words, when Jesus first establish the Lord's Supper. 

The teaching I gave you is the same teaching I received from the Lord: On the night when the Lord Jesus was handed over to be killed, he took bread and gave thanks for it. Then he broke the bread and said, "This is my body; it is for you. Do this to remember me." In the same way, after they ate, Jesus took the cup. He said, "This cup is the new agreement that is sealed with the blood of my death. When you drink this, do it to remember me." Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you are telling others about the Lord’s death until he comes. 
(1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

It is important to notice that twice Paul quotes Jesus' emphasis. "Do this to remember Me."  Every time the Corinthians had the Lord's Supper, they were announcing to each other that wonderful message that
    (1) the Lord Jesus was there with them in sacrament, 
(1 Cor. 10:16; 11:24-25)
    (2)  Jesus suffered and died to forgive their sins,
(1 Cor. 11:26; Matt. 26:28)
    (3) they were all united in Christ.
(1 Cor. 10:17)

while at the same time, they hated the church and embarrassed their poorer brothers and sister. 

That conflicted against the purpose of the Lord's Supper. 

The Lord's Supper was suppose to express their unity.  But they were not united.  Their division and conflict denied Christ's death and that salvation that He offers in the Lord's Supper.

So Paul had to teach the Corinthians again that their faith in Christ means that should no longer act and think as the world does, especially in their relationships with other people.  We now must see other people as Christ sees them -- with love and compassion.

How do we do that?  That will dig into that question in our next lesson.

Here we must deal with a difficult question that people ask about the Lord's Supper:
Why do some churches refuse to give the Lord's Supper to Christians who are not members of their church?

It is because they take very seriously the unity which we confess in the Lord's Supper, which includes unity in our understanding about what the Bible teaches.

Allow me illustrate with a personal example.

A long time ago when I was a college student I attended a conference that was hosted by a Catholic Church.  Many who attended the conference were devout Catholics.  At the end of the conference the group moved from the basement of the church up to the sanctuary for closing worship.   The service include celebration of the Mass -- what we Protestants call the Lord's Supper.  The officiating priest was aware that several people attending the conference were Protestants.  So just before he began distributing the sacrament, he announced:  "It is our confession that those who receive the sacrament acknowledge the Pope as the head of the Church."

Often when I tell this story to my Protestant friends, they respond, "That was an awful thing to say!"

No, that was an honest thing to say, and I am glad the priest said it.  For indeed, it is true.  Those who receive communion in a Catholic Mass are professing unity with the teachings and practice of the Catholic Church, which includes acknowledging the authority of the Pope over the Church.

Since I don't share that point of view, it was necessary that I not go forward to the altar for the bread and wine.  If I had ignored the priest's announcement and participated in the Mass, I would have
    (1) violated my own faith regarding the authority of the Pope and other Caltholic doctrines,
    (2) violated the faith of the priest who was officiating the sacrament, and
    (3) acted dishonestly.

What the priest said was not an offense against me or any other Protestant.  Nor was our refusal to participate in the Mass an offense against the priest and his church.  We Christian members of various denomination simply recognize that do not believe and teach the same things about some very important issues in our faith, and that we respect each other regarding those differences. 

In past centuries Christians of all denominations understood this principle of unity in the Lord's Supper better than we do today.  In recent years we have failed to explain it well.  Consequently many Christians feel deeply hurt when they visit a church that does not permit them to receive the Lord's Supper.  Because we no longer explain this well, we risk bruising tender fruit -- and there is much bruised fruit among us.

So when such a brother or sister in Christ comes to the Lord's Table, and I understand that Christ Himself will one day welcome this brother or sister to His great banquet in heaven, how can I in good conscience refuse them at His table on earth?

We live with a tension -- a delicate balance -- when we recognize both our differences and the common faith we share in Christ and His cross. 

In our next lesson we will discuss more about who should and who should not attend the Lord's Supper.

This principle of unity in the Lord's Supper is often called "close communion."   We say and sign the word "close" as in near, not "closed" as in shut out, even though people outside the fellowship may feel like they are being shut out.

A helpful resource on this subject is a report by the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, "Admission to the Lord's Supper."