Messy church: Discrimination

I Corinthians 11:17-34

No church is perfect, and a certain amount of disagreement is inevitable. But Corinth was a deeply divided church – and it was divided along ethnic and socio-economic faultlines. The Lord’s Supper (and the ‘love-feast’ which in the early church preceded it) should be the most sacred part of church life, and an expression of our unity and fellowship. But the Corinthians were making a mockery of it, by erecting social barriers and forming cliques.

It was the custom in Greek society, when holding banquets in private houses, for the guests to be segregated in separate rooms according to social status, and then served in order of importance. And this was how the Christians were organising their church life. Instead of sharing everything with one another on equal terms, the richer believers (who were able to arrive early and get the best seats) were feasting while their poor brothers and sisters went hungry. It was yet another example of how the Corinthians were distorting the gospel, serving their own interests rather than each others’.

If this is how we ‘celebrate’ Communion, we are not actually celebrating it at all; such an attitude is a denial of all it stands for. At Christ’s table, all are equal: we must all eat the same bread and drink the same wine. For Christ died for us all, and none of us can contribute anything to our salvation; we all receive His forgiveness without cost to ourselves. It is therefore totally unacceptable to conduct the Lord’s Supper in a way that abuses or humiliates any member of the congregation. It is not an individual act of worship but essentially a communal event, from which no member of the church should be excluded.

Neglect or abuse of God’s sacraments is a very serious matter, and the threat of judgement is not just theoretical. Even Moses was once threatened with a near-fatal illness because he had omitted to circumcise his son (Exodus 4:24-26), and Paul traces the various problems of the Corinthian church (verse 30) to the same source. “Those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgement on themselves.” (verse 29) ‘Discerning the body of Christ’ means understanding and living out the truth that fellowship with Christ is inseparable from fellowship with other members of His body. Can we truly consider ourselves part of His body if we allow other Christians to starve while we feast? If we cannot celebrate Communion as a community, it might actually be better not to do it at all…

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