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Communion and the Church as the Body of Christ; Part 2

Communion and the Church as the Body of Christ; Part 2 December 23, 2021

As I said in my last post, I am convinced that before we can address the plethora of issues that plague the contemporary western evangelical church we must begin with a proper understanding of the church and the people of God.

To reiterate: my conclusion is that the Church is the visible body of Christ in the world today and that this is what Paul is referring to in 1 Cor 11:17-34.

As I discussed at length in my last post, the context of 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:34 deals primarily with how we treat one another in the church—especially those who are deemed “weaker” (and “weaker” may refer to their conscience or it may relate to one’s position in society).

This means that the focal point of our “communion” passage (1 Cor 11:17-34) is not on communion per se, but on how we are treating one another at communion.

It is important to observe that Paul had addressed communion one chapter earlier:

“Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16-17).

Paul affirms that communion is a prime example of the body of Christ coming together in order to display its cruciform (to borrow from the language of Michael Gorman)[1] unity. Note, that Paul says that “we who are many are one body.”

The question, then, regarding communion in 1 Cor 11:17-34 is whether “the body” (1 Cor 11:29) for which we will be judged if we do not judge rightly, refers to the body of Christ Himself or to the people of God as the body of Christ?

I would affirm the latter based on two key points here.

First, Paul has already told us that the “body” he is talking about is the community of God’s people (Cf 1 Cor 10:17).

Secondly, the context of this section of 1 Corinthians, as I noted in my previous post, has centered on how the people of God treat one another.

The problem with the wealthy men eating and drinking before the poor had even arrived (1 Cor 11:21-22) centered on the fact that it demonstrates a failure to understand that the death of Christ has brought about a fundamental unity for the people of God.

Consequently, when the wealthy men gathered and ate to the point in which they were full and drunk before the poor working members had even arrived, they were heaping further shame on the poor.

This is what Paul means when he says, they are “guilty of sinning against the body and blood of our Lord” (1 Cor 11:27).

Social distinctions are what they are. For Paul, however, there is no place for a social hierarchy in the church.

Thus, Paul insists, “when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment” (1 Cor 11:33-34).

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Communion symbolizes our unity in Christ!

My first point, then, is that we are the body of Christ.

Though most readers of this post will affirm this proposition without hesitation, I do suspect that most do not understand the implications of it nor its gravity.

As an ordained Pastor, I have had the privilege of serving communion. When I do, I always note that communion reminds us of three things.

  • First and foremost, communion reminds us of Christ’s death and resurrection and that, “This is My body which is given for you” (Luke 22:19).
  • Secondly, communion reminds us that we are called to “take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34). This includes the fact that we are called to love one another (John 15:12), and that the essence of love is to “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
  • Finally, communion reminds us of the heavenly banquet that awaits us someday when death, suffering, and hunger are no more (cf Rev 7:16-17; 21:4).

It is this second point that I believe Paul was making in 1 Cor 11:17-34. That is, Paul was pointing out that they were disregarding the Church as the body, which is the very thing that they were affirming through their taking of communion.

Thus, when the wealthy shamed the poor by indulging and getting drunk, they failed to recognize the fundamental equality within the people of God that was symbolized in their taking of communion.

As a result, they were sinning against the body of Christ[2] and eating and drinking judgment on themselves.

Conclusion

A look at the state of the church today must begin with a recognition that we are the body of Christ. And as such we are called to represent Jesus to the world.

If the world wants to know what Jesus is like they can begin by looking at us! This takes discussions of “the church” to another level.

 

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Click here for more details and stay tuned for our Dec 31, 2021 post.

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[1] See Michael Gorman, Cruciformity. Note the Determinetruth Podcast interviewed Michael Gorman on the topic of this book on Aug 10, 2021. https://determinetruth.podbean.com/ Finding specific episodes is quite easy to do on the Determinetruth app: Follow this link to download the tithe.ly church app; then add “Determinetruth” as the church name in order to have even easier access to the blog posts, podcasts, and more of Determinetruth.

[2] Intentionally ambiguous here!


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