Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Just A Bit More About Communion

Continuing on the subject of Communion...

Guilt for the Body and Blood
One may wonder how the violation of the elements of a memorial meal would rise to the level of weakness and death in punishment. To such reverie, I say let us remember: a simple command to not eat a piece of fruit resulted in the weakness and death of everything. It is not the relative scope of the offense itself (as we would see it) which determines God's response in judgment, but what he can see the offense betrays about the condition of faith in the perpetrator. Our scales can in no way be applied to the justice of God.

A God-given sign of faith, not honored as such, carries notable risk with its dishonor. It's not because the substance of the sign (the elements) was violated, but because of the attitude betrayed toward what is conveyed by them. There is no implication in such punishment that necessitates that it entail an affront to some special presence, or gracious virtue. Guilt accrues over simple bread and wine simply because one who is disrespectful of the sign is disdainful of the thing signified by it. One needs to discern this truth when participating in the Supper.

What God gives us is himself. It's what is at the heart and soul of being born again. The Spirit of God quickens us, and we become living stones, part of the Temple, or habitation of God. It can't get better than that. God, no longer at a distance, but instantly with us and us always with him. To see grace, effectively, as some piece-meal add-on to rebirth fails to understand rebirth. Whatever God wants to demonstrate within the believer springs from his abiding presence within. There are no means of grace, for the only means of divine blessing is God the Spirit, and he is within us before and quite apart from the performance of any ritual.

Stevie Wonder was right, superstition ain't the way. Yet it is all too human, even amongst "believers". Case in point: the Bronze Serpent Moses lifted up and of which Jesus said he was the antitype. A memorial for the power God displayed when that serpent was lifted up became, through the superstitious seating of power in the serpent, idolatry. The hold of serpent superstition had to be broken then, the same is true of sacramentalism in the Lord's supper today.

If history is any guide, that same serpent devolution happened quickly in the early church with the Lord's Supper. I think sometimes folks look to the early church for too much. The NT epistles are filled with corrections, rebukes, astonished acknowledgments of sin and doctrinal error in the earliest church. If believers could mess up that badly when the Apostles were still alive and well, what confidence can be placed in their practice once the bodies of the Apostles were cold? The only reliable, authoritative guide we have for faith and practice is the Bible itself!


There is no biblical rule that tells us how often to celebrate the Lord's Supper. The implication in the NT, it seems to me, is that it was practiced often, maybe even at every worship meeting of the first congregations. Nonetheless, I think that if God would have had in mind the sacramental effect that has been saddled on the practice of Communion throughout most of church history, the Spirit would have commanded it less nebulously than "as oft as you eat and drink." No, the spooky necessity attached to the feast is on the back of man rather than the Son of Man.

The celebration does nothing to forgive sin, tap into the blessings God has provided in Christ, or mysteriously bind us together in the one bread and one body of Christ--it bears no sacramental necessity at all.  Jesus inaugurated the meal with the disciples to serve as a memorial until he could eat and drink it again with them in the kingdom of God.  It is simply a God-given way of remembering the means by which we stand before God accepted, and to proclaim our faith that Christ died for our sins, rose for our justification, and is returning for the consummation of his eternal kingdom.

As such the ordinance should not be entered upon callously. One should examine himself before participating and ensure within his own mind that he participates with Christ in view, in a way that honors what Jesus did and taught. That means not eating to satisfy physical hunger or appetite; nor eating self-centeredly, ignoring the body Christ bled and died for. To participate in an manner unworthy of Christ is to eat and drink judgment upon oneself.