Within the Church there are three primary beliefs about communion that have been at the centre of many of its divisions:
The Eucharist - a belief that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ physically. This is called transubstantiation
The reformer Martin Luther believed that because Christ is “in all things”, He was already in the bread and the blood… this belief is called consubstantiation
The most common belief today is called memorialism. This is the belief that the bread and the wine used in communion celebrations is purely symbolic and its importance is mostly to remember Christs sacrifice on the cross.
My own experience has been been the memorialist view. As I studied the the Lords Supper I realized again that the practice and theology of communion has, like many Church doctrines had some rather unbiblical views over the centuries.
We seem to have taken what was meant to build community and fellowship… to take a moment of reflection on Christs sacrifice and made it into yet another legalistic, unfulfilling, shame inducing ceremony.
During the first communion the disciples would have been relaxed and reclining around the fellowship table as was the custom at the time. Jesus took the bread, broke it and shared it around the table. Here is the description from the scriptures:
“And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” - Luke 22
Later, in Corinth, the Church began allow the communion celebration to become a huge party… to the degree where it turned into drunkenness and gluttony. Paul had to remind them that the communion service was not a wild party saying:
“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 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. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”
But, what does it mean when he says examine yourself in the next verses?
I can vividly remember that self condemnation I felt during communion based on this verse… this condemnation and guilt was clearly NOT Paul’s intent. When we read the scripture we must understand context, and looking at previous excerpts from Pauls letter we see that the Corinthian Church was deep into anarchist, licentious sin. The Church had disconnected from morality… as evidenced from 1 Corinthians 5, 6:15-16 and 11:20-21. The sin these believers allowed in their midst made them culturally irrelevant according to Paul.
Listen to Paul's admonition here:
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife."
Reading further in Paul’s other books such as his letter to the Galatian Church he clearly condemns legalism as well. Jesus taught the disciples that “his yoke is easy and his burden is light”... so we can see that self condemnation is not something that Holy Spirit wishes to promote.
It is evident that somewhere between a legalistic, shame inducing memorial and a wild party there is a place where the Church can celevrate in worship while also remembering the body and blood of Christ! Communion is meant to be a place of “community” for believers... as the word itself suggests. The word for communion in Corinthians 10:16-17 is the Greek word “koinónia” which Strongs dictionary says is
“ (a feminine noun) – properly, what is shared in common as the basis of fellowship(partnership, community).”
This is a fellowship, a last supper celebration so to speak of our oneness with the body of Christ through the Cross and the power of the Holy Spirit. To make it a drunken party we do bring risk of judgement on ourselves… conversely, to make it a legalistic and over-ceremonialized and somber religious event does not bring about the community that is evident in the Bible and the early Church.
Communion is not complicated… men have made it complicated. If Christ were physically in many of our communion services I am absolutely certain He would be challenging the shame and condemnation that has been attached to the finished work he has done on the Cross.
As I write this I think of how I would have judged an article like this 10 or 20 years ago... and I know many who read this will say that to informalize or take away the sombreness of the communion celebration would be to reduce the holiness of the ceremony. This could not be further from the truth. If Holiness would be found in a ceremony then nothing else we do matters... Holiness comes from Christ.
Paul, when he spoke of food sacrificed to idols as well as the Christian's freedom said "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” Again and again we see in the gospel that:
"Where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom"
Next communion, let us take time to worship Christ for his holiness in you!
Reading the New Testament... it appears He wants you to have joy in remembering His FULL payment for your sins. There is no need for condemnation for the believer that authentically seeks oneness with Christ.
The correct response to His sacrifice is not additional condemnation and worry about not measuring up. Rather it is full acceptance of this righteousness we did not deserve but received through acceptance of Jesus Christ as our saviour!
"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us" - Ephesians 3 verse 20
I'm so glad His righteousness replaced my dead works and sin with His righteous deeds and purpose. The Body and Blood was spilled once for all time so I do not have to live in self condemnation, self analysis, or self examination about hidden sins. He is faithful and just and there is nothing about me he hasn't already carried to redemption through the Cross and Resurrection!