Communion is Communal

Guest post by Rob Tims

When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk … That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 1 Corinthians 11:20-21, 30.

It’s difficult to imagine that the kind of Lord’s Supper Paul described taking place in the Corinthian church was very much like the way many Southern Baptists do it. In fact, the Corinthian Lord’s Supper sounds more like a Southern Baptist potluck, especially if you exchange the wine for sweet tea. There’s not a ceremony. There’s not a pastor or group of deacons passing out plates while a musician plays or sings softly in the background. There’s no teaching. There’s no synchronized consumption of bread pellets and grape juice.

No. Something very different is described.

There’s clearly an expectation by all who plan to attend that they will get a full meal.

There’s clearly an expectation that there will be plenty of wine.

And at least for Paul, there’s clearly an expectation that everyone will be thinking about everyone else so as to make sure all get enough.

In other words, it’s a communal experience.

Trouble comes to the Corinthian communion experience when they cease to understand it as a communal experience. To participate in the Lord’s Supper in Corinth in a way that is selfish and indifferent to the rest of the church family was such a serious offense that some became weak, ill or even died (v. 30).

In our American, even southern, culture, we’ve so personalized the Lord’s Supper experience that we’ve forgotten what is arguably the biggest part of it: community with believers. The Passover in Exodus, though each family bore personal responsibility for its doorpost, was a communal salvation experience. Jesus’ passover supper with His disciples was a communal experience. The Corinthians practiced this at first, but lost sight of it. Some took advantage of it to the harm of others.

I suppose that a more ceremonial practice of the Lord’s Supper alleviates the problem the Corinthians had. By passing plates and taking the elements together in a worship service, no one is left out. No one benefits more than another.

But something is lost. No longer am I, a congregational member, forced to consider others and how they might benefit from the experience. I don’t have to prepare for their participation. I don’t have to guard my desires for the benefit of others. It’s almost as if the ceremonial process has inadvertently individualized the process more than is best for both the individual and the congregation as a whole.

We ought to be asking ourselves, then, how can we make ceremonial Lord’s Supper experiences help individual members feel the weight of the communal aspects of community?

Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.

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