Renew the Table is a series of thoughts and opinions concerning the renewal of the Lord's Supper. For more information please see Goals and Disclaimers.
In my previous post I put forward the conclusion that the Memorial view devalues the Lord’s Supper. I attempted to reveal that the bad fruit was due to the bad root. I proposed that the reason Memorialism devalues the Supper is because, at its root, it removes the presence of Christ from the Supper. I also said that if Christ is not present, then my accusations of Memorialism are false, for if Christ truly is not present then Memorialism, out of all the historic views, must be the correct one.
I was raised to be a pretty staunch Memorialist. I've been on the inside, so to speak. In many ways, I still am (although now subversively, I guess). As God allowed me to lead and craft worship services the cracks of Memorialism became larger and more revealing to me over the years. This led me to study and explore Church history and Scripture and after time wading through both I came through convinced that Memorialism is inadequate. But the largest hurdle for me was the presence of Christ in the Supper. I felt (and feel) that this is the issue upon which Memorialism stands or falls. As I mentioned in my previous post, the three other historic traditions, the Calvinist, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic views all maintain (though in vastly different ways) that Christ is present in the Supper and that some form of grace or benefit is given. From my Memorialist point of view, it was always assumed that if Christ is present in the Supper, no matter how you define it, it was Roman Catholic. If it even smelled like it could lead to something vaguely recognizable as being acceptable in Roman Catholic worship then the automatic, gut reaction, was to run the other direction. This mindset may have initially preserved purity in the Church’s worship, but today it often is used to avoid deeper thinking about things that really are important for the worship of the Church. There is a kind of immaturity of faith that turns tail and runs at every thorny path. The mature meet the challenge head on with the sword of the Word of God to cut through the thorny brambles to go deeper, getting to the heart of the issue.
To be honest, the theologies produced throughout Church history, while providing me with evidence that the Church did in fact believe that Christ was present and that benefits were offered in the Supper, didn't necessarily convince me that it was the case. What really changed my mind was Scripture. And one passage in particular really led the charge.
|Prince Phillip getting to the heart of the issue.|
"Grab yer Sword, We're Going In"
Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. They are having idolatry problems. Some have fallen back into idolatry and some are having their consciences troubled when it comes to issues with the idolatry around them. Paul is helping them by teaching them to think right about idolatry. To battle this he appeals to the goodness of God, the freedom of the Christian, love for neighbor, and examples from Scripture. In the midst of this discussion about idolatry he touches upon the Lord’s Supper. (Before we jump in I think it is interesting to at least highlight that the Supper naturally comes to his mind when discussing worship. False worship is being contrasted with right worship. The Supper was deeply rooted to the idea of regular Christian worship. I only say this to expose how the Lord’s Supper is thought of today. At least for Memorialists, the Supper is anything but rooted regular worship.)
In 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 Paul says,
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. 18 Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? 19 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? 20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?
First, I should say that I believe the English texts that we have here are good translations of this passage. Often people turn to the Greek words as if they will impart some form of special knowledge that the common English reader will never catch or understand. That’s not what I’m doing here. I believe the English in this passage is adequate to convey the original. So when we look at a few Greek words here, the hope is that they will only augment that which we already see in our own language. It helps us grasp the meaning (a meaning that is already there in plain English) in a clearer way.
I want to begin by looking at the words koinonia, koinonoi, koinonous, metechomen, and metechein. These words all carry with them the idea of an intimate sharing. In English they are often translated as communion, fellowship, partaking, participation, sharing. As we see in the passage above (New King James) verse 16 uses the word communion twice. The ESV renders verse 16 this way: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” Communion in the NKJV and Participation in the ESV are used for the same Greek word, koinonia. Koinonoi in verse 18 is translated partakers (NKJV) or participants (ESV). Verse 20 in the NKJV translates the Greek word koinonous as fellowship where the ESV uses the word participants again. Actually a literal translation of both koinonoi and koinonous in verses 18 and 20 might be rendered “fellow-partakers”. In verse 17 the word metechomen is translated as partake in both versions. Again, both versions use the word partake in verse 21 for the word metechein. The NIV translates this as “have a part in”. The Holman Christian Standard translates it as share.
Let’s look at the passage again with the Greek words inserted:
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the koinonia of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the koinonia of the body of Christ? 17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all metechomen of that one bread. 18 Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices koinonoi of the altar? 19 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? 20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have koinonous with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot metechein of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?
Do you see how thick this passage is with this idea of an intimate sharing, participating, partaking, fellowshipping, communing? We have the same idea coming up six times in this single passage.
Okay, so let’s think about this a bit. If the context of this passage is about idolatry, why does Paul bring up koinonia? The reason he brings up koinonia is because he doesn't want the Corinthians to “have koinonous with demons”. The implication of this actually made me shiver the first time I really thought about it. The loud banging echo reverberating from this is that you can’t have koinonia with nothing! It takes two to tango and this is what Paul is trying to point out. In verse 19 he says that an idol is nothing and the sacrifice to the idol is nothing (When he asks “is it anything?” the inference is, no it isn't anything). But! The reality is that though the idol is nothing, that which lies behind the idol is something, and that something is demons. Therefore, in worshipping idols, in making offerings to idols (things made of wood or stone which are nothing) they are really worshipping and making offerings to a spiritual reality, namely demons. This is why Paul tells them to flee from idolatry!
But do you see how he framed his argument? Do you see what he contrasted this demonic koinonia with? The Lord’s Supper. Paul points to the spiritual reality of demonic koinonia in idol worship and contrasts it with the spiritual reality of koinonia with Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Something lies behind idol worship and Something lies behind the Lord’s Supper. That Something, that Spiritual Reality is being participated with and in the act of worship.
Let’s go even further. Look at the parallel in verse 21. Paul says, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot metechein of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.” Paul literally equates the act of drinking with metechein, that is partaking, sharing, to have part in. Meaning drinking the cup is to take part in that Spiritual Reality. This is how the Spiritual Reality is joined with, shared in, be it with Christ or with a demon.
More than a Memorial
Now if Paul was under the assumption that Communion (koinonia) was merely a memorial, then why the warnings? If there is no real communion with demons then why bring up the idea of provoking the Lord to jealousy? Why would Paul use an argument revealing that pagan eating and drinking is a partaking of a demonic reality, that Israelite worship was a partaking of the benefits of the altar, all the while believing that Christian eating and drinking is nothing but a memorial? Paul asks “are we stronger than he?” but if Paul doesn't believe Christ is present in the Supper and yet still gives us this argument then shouldn't we be asking, “Are the demons stronger than He?” There is something more than a remembering happening here.
We see from this passage that a spiritual reality is actually occurring, namely fellowship, partaking, communion with and in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Christ is the Reality, the Presence that we have koinonia with. We don’t just remember His body and blood, we metechein His body and blood. We see from this passage that the act of the Lord’s Supper, the act of communion, is eating and drinking. No eating, no drinking means no communion with Christ. No participation in His body and blood. If this is not the case, then Paul would be foolish to warn against eating and drinking pagan sacrifices for they are nothing and mean nothing. Paul is saying, “This pagan worship is koinonia with demons.” And at the same time he is saying (v16) “This cup of blessing which we (Christians) bless, this act of worship, it is koinonia with Christ.” There is a reality that lies behind, or within, the action.
A quick rabbit trail for the concerned pope-sniffing Baptist. Is this just a magic formula? Just say hocus pocus and eat and Bingo! you are now participating in the body and blood of Christ? Do the elements have some inherent property that grants auto-communion with Christ upon eating? Some say it is so (which is why you smell something), and they've had to justify it in some interesting ways, but I don’t think they gathered that from this passage. If they did, then they missed the passage that says ‘whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” When we approach the Table, like anything else in worship, in life, we are to come in faith. Faith meets Christ at the Table. Unbelief at the Table only leads to judgment. One might even say that the Supper is a microcosm of the conflicting theologies during the Reformation. Does the work of eating enable you to have faith or does the faith of eating enable you to work? Wait. Where did that rabbit go? We should probably get back to the task at hand.
Yes, but How?
Granted, this passage (and frankly, all the Supper passages) doesn't give us the clear cut, sharp edged, ship shape theology that we modern systematic organizers desire. We want to know how Christ is in the Supper! (Perhaps because it offers the tantalizing promise that it would solve a lot of problems? Surely Satan wouldn't toy with us in that way...). From this passage we can glean that Christ is present spiritually, but beyond that gleaning we begin to strike out on our own path. It may be the right one, it may have some biblical support along the way, but we can’t be quite sure because it hasn't been explicitly revealed to us exactly how. The quest to unveil hidden knowledge such as this is fraught with peril. Our best bet is to stay close to the source.
It is extremely interesting to note that the Early Church didn't fret over the how. They were content to simply obey Christ in eating and drinking when they gathered. If they were curious about the how, they were at least content to leave it a mystery. It was enough that Christ was present in the Supper sustaining those who ate in faith. Christ commanded us to eat His broken flesh and drink His poured out blood, not to reverse engineer the process so we can be a better Christian theologians, or (God forbid!) that we might corner the worship market. I say this not in order to discredit every theory on the basis that they are indeed theories, nor am I saying that the theories are unhelpful. I only say this to reveal that while I may agree or disagree with certain theologies that have been passed down, what I cling to the above all of them is the foundation, the Word of God. And the Christian doctrine of the Lord’s Supper found in the Word of God affirms the presence of Christ in the Supper.
I said that it was on the basis of the presence of Christ in the Supper that Memorialism stands or falls, and I believe this passage knocks it down with one of those skyscraper wrecking ball cranes. Probably some dynamite too. And if that is the case, then a serious and deep reevaluation of the Lord's Supper is needed in many, many, many (many) churches. This is the reason I'm writing in the first place. I can hold these opinions close to my chest, but, right or wrong, I love the Church and want to see Her worship in spirit and truth. I want to see the Supper restored to reflect the beauty I see in the Word of God.
In summation, it was this passage from Paul's epistle to the Corinthians, more than anything else, that convinced me of the reality of Christ’s presence in the Supper and highlighted the inadequacies of mere Memorialism (not to mention the inadequacies of those which believe in the physical presence of Christ in the Supper). Not only that, it added more weight to what I already had concluded, confirming my assumption that the infrequent observance of the Supper is an indicator of how healthy a Church’s worship is. If Christ is present in the Supper then observing the Supper ought to be valuable to our weekly worship. But that leads us to our next bump in the road; a problem that is found in the medieval church as well as the modern. An argument that the Transubstantiationalists and Memorialists alike use to justify their infrequent partaking in worship. It goes something like this: We infrequently observe the Lord’s Supper precisely because it is so valuable. We’ll tackle this in the next post.