1 Corinthians 11:17-22
That’s Not the Lord’s Supper
It is a sad state of affairs throughout Christendom that we are so divided over the one observance commanded by our Lord that is supposed to bring us together: The Lord’s Supper. We are divided along denominational lines and even within our churches. Division is both sin and curse while unity is blessing. And yet, such unity must be a unity in the truth of both doctrine and life. And this is why Paul adds that “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” As Paul reminded us in Romans, “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (9:6), so not all who are in the Church belong to the Church. Thus, as painful as it may be, unity in either the universal or local church shall never be complete in this life but awaits fulfillment in heaven.
Paul notes their divisions here as he has before; however, in this case, the divisions are especially egregious as they concern the Lord’s Supper, again, that observance commanded by Christ (be it called “ordinance” or “sacrament”) which is supposed to be the sign of Christian unity, par excellence. Only it wasn’t. And, as with the matter of the head coverings in the last chapter, it is hard to know exactly what was happening; however, what is obvious enough is that the wealthier members of the church were arriving earlier and enjoying some sort of meal, which they referred to as the Lord’s Supper, but which Paul flatly denies on account of their uncharitable behavior towards their poorer brethren. Many claim that the New Testament Church observed some sort of “agape meal” or “love feast” in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper. Is this what the wealthier members were enjoying before the others? If so, there was nothing loving about it.
This is what we do know: 1) “Love Feasts” notwithstanding, the Lord’s Supper itself is not a fellowship meal but a sacred event to be observed with the utmost decorum and dignity, which is to add that it is not something intended to fill the belly but the spirit; and, 2) The Lord’s Supper is for everyone in a saving relationship with the Lord and, we used to think, living a life in obedience, or having repented of sin before partaking thereof, which is to say that there is no sociological bar to the Supper, the only bars being regeneration and discipleship, restrictions upon which we must insist to guard the integrity of the sacred observance. The Corinthians desacralized the Supper one way, we have desacralized the supper another by tacking it on to the end of the service and letting anyone participate, regardless of faith or manner of life, so as not to offend or exclude—i.e., worldly values.