A Communitarian view of the Lord’s Supper

Back in 2001, I did an independent reading study on the church and the Spirit. This culminated in a final paper in which I proposed an understanding of the celebration of Communion that really pays attention to the work of the Holy Spirit. For the most part, this paper pretty much cemented a perspective I’ve held to ever since, and probably has radically affected all sorts of my opinions on related church subjects. This view, I think, could be a radical contribution to church life, and one, I think, which has again and again pushed me back towards emerging churches as the most likely churches to adopt this in practice and theory.

As I begin to more fully explore my perspectives on emerging church theology, I think this older work is a key foundation from which I build from. Rather than post it all at once, I’m going to post it as a continuing series. I’d love to hear your thoughts, challenges, questions, etc.

The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is one of the most ancient aspects of Christian worship still being celebrated. Although disputes and differences have split the church in countless ways, the celebration of this key activity is found virtually throughout all of history. The problem, however, arises in how exactly this meal is interpreted. How is this activity is understood to “work”? What is the right way it is to be celebrated.

Sadly, there are few doctrines which have caused more divisions and enmity than the interpretation of the Eucharist event. This discussion prevented the coming together of the German speaking Reformation as Zwingli and Luther agreed on fourteen common points, but were permanently split and hostile to each other in their interpretation of this meal. The eucharist is one of the primary issues, along with questions of government, which prevents a complete restoration of the actual, not simply “spiritual”, unity of the Church.

I propose that rather than being a reason for disunity, it was intended as a method intended to cement unity. While making the strongest emphasis on Christ it is possibly primarily a Pneumatological event. The Lord’s Supper is a celebration of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the community, and designed to celebrate both the unity and the diversity of the Church.

I will begin this extended study by looking at the key passages in the New Testament, taking special note of I Corinthians. Because the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is established and commented on in our earliest texts it is vital that we see these comments as our primary source. It can be said, with caution, that even early on the Church reinterpreted this celebration along different lines than Jesus intended or Paul understood, leading to a continuation of the problems which Paul was attempting to address in his firm comments to the Corinthians. The lack of recognition of the Spirit’s work in the church led to both disorder and disunity within the church, solutions for which are quite needed in our present church life, and which make Paul’s discussion vital for any present analysis.

I will then briefly look at the development of this celebration, showing that the doctrine of this meal vitally affects the government and structure of the church as a whole. Our understanding and view of the work of the Spirit in Christ and in the community, as Paul showed us, can leadto a vastly different understanding of virtually every other aspect of church life.

Finally, I will seek to expound on how the Spirit is signified in the gathered feast of the anointed community, leading us to be reminded of and empowered in our understanding of the past, present, and future work of Christ in his earthly ministry, and in the present ministry of binding his followers together, while giving each a vital role in the fullness of his work.

In doing this I will not focus on specific practices which characterize the different traditions. Rather, my approach will work towards a broad re-evaluation of the role of the Spirit in this celebration, rather than looking specifically at the traditional points in which the Spirit is usually discussed or the specific traits which differentiate the celebration in different communities.

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