Communitarian view of the Lord’s Supper (part II)

In looking at the doctrine of the Eucharist in the New Testament we find a surprisingly limited amount of pertinent material. The Gospel passages and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians provide all that we know about the very earliest traditions. Paul’s comments are the most important as they are seeking to explain how the Lord’s Supper is in fact to be celebrated, and to correct the wrongs which the Corinthian Christians were perpetuating. In I Corinthians 11:17-34 Paul focuses on how the Corinthians are celebrating the Christian meal of communion. What is immediately apparent from his discussion is that Paul is worried about the divisions which seems to be arising in the life of the community.

There appears to be a disunity caused by social disparity, a tension developing between rich and poor. It is clear from Paul’s response is that the disparity and disunity which is being exhibited will not be tolerated. By acting in this manner, they are showing “contempt for the church of God” and are humiliating “those who have nothing”. Paul begins to elucidate the severity of their actions in no faint terms. He writes to them that if any of them dare to eat and drink the elements in a manner which is unacceptable, they will be guilty not only of causing simple division but responsible for the guilt brought on those who persecuted and killed Christ. For in their eating and drinking, their celebrating with their rich foods and much wine, they are forgetting the solemnity of the moment, the reason for which they are gathered together, which is Christ.

In this context, the “unworthy manner” refers certainly to the way in which the Corinthian believers are treating one another in their gatherings together, as well as in other areas of life. It is at this point that Paul asserts the true seriousness of the disunity which he has been discussing throughout the entire book. This is not simply a nice wish that “everyone would just get along”, rather this is a command by Paul which relates to their very salvation. If they do not get along, if they do not abandon their pride and disunity they will be found guilty for the very death which they are proclaiming. For they are not gathering together for themselves, to promote their own success or abilities, they are not gathering for a social club or typical cultic gathering, but rather they are gathering together to proclaim the death of Christ, and the fact that he will come again. It is at their own peril that they forget or ignore this.

Thus in verse 28 Paul tells them each to examine oneself, not just once, but continually every time they gather. Although typically understood as an introspective inspection of one’s moral and spiritual level, the word dokimazo signifies something more in the New Testament context. It is an examination of worthiness, a testing of one’s fitness for salvation, and the developing of a lifestyle which is consistent with the salvation we are given by and through Christ. With this comes a need to understand the meaning of salvation in Christ, and an understanding of what makes us worthy. The context is not discussing the moral strictures of the Christian life, but instead gives us two guidelines as to what constitutes unworthy participation.

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