It's possible that the Lord's Supper largely become a dead and potentially dangerous ritual.
Just how important is it for Christian believers to recognize and accept each other?
I remember sitting in a pew one Sunday evening about 10 years ago, reading through a passage written by Paul to the believers in Corinth. I came across a familiar verse: "For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves." (1 Corinthians 11:29 - NRSV)
Now the context makes it very clear what Paul means by "body." In fact other manuscripts and English translations go on to say "the Lord's body." A couple of verses earlier, Paul had said: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 11:27 - NRSV) Nothing could be clearer. Paul is talking about the very body of Jesus that was broken for our sakes when He suffered for sin.
But is that all that Paul means? And, more important, is that all that the Spirit of God is saying to us in that passage? After all, throughout the passage and much of the letter, Paul addresses the problem of schisms and divisions in the church -- which is also the Lord's body.
"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." (1 Corinthians 12:27 - NRSV)
Could we be condemning ourselves by partaking of "Holy Communion" or the Lord's Supper when we refuse to truly and simply acknowledge the "body of Christ" which is the church? When we set ourselves apart from other believers, writing them off because of some differences in doctrine or practice, are we sinning against Christ Himself?
The Scripture says: "For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves." (1 Corinthians 11:29 - NRSV) And there are many of us who refuse to "discern" or recognize blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ as part of the church, the body of Christ. We divide the body up into many organizations, and then we tend to look down on Christian brothers and sisters who are not part of our particular group.
I believe that we sin when we attempt to bring our gift to the altar (see Romans 12:1; Matthew 5:23,24) without first making peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And I believe that when we try to claim and celebrate a "holy communion" with Christ while rejecting the very members of His body (those for whom he died) that we bring trouble on ourselves, as Paul wrote and as the Spirit of God teaches us in Scripture.
There is one church. In all the world, there is only one church which is the body of Christ. Granted, each local assembly of believers (wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus' name - Matthew 18:20) is a tiny picture or model of that world-wide church. But the body of Christ is one, and all who have had their sins washed away by faith in Jesus Christ belong to that one church, that great body of believers. We are members of Christ and of each other. We are each a spiritual part of the working of God's grace on this earth.
Now there are many denominations, associations and conferences and confessions. But only one thing matters: Do you know and love the Lord Jesus? Are you washed in His blood? Does He know you as one of His own?
I know there are religious organizations that have gone bad. I believe that all man-made religious efforts are doomed to fail. As soon as we set up an association, a new division, another denomination or class of believers, the thing is doomed to sour with time and rot from within. Whatever is flesh will die and rot. But what is of God will live forever. And I have often found true and healthy believers still working and living in the midst of decaying organizations. Many of them exist as a witness among the ashes of corrupt religion, just as street preachers exist and testify in the hearts of inner cities.
We are to recognize, acknowledge, and love all genuine Christian believers. We may not count others as inferior or lesser Christians simply because they are not exactly like us. They may worship and pray and speak in ways unlike our own. But that does not make our way better. And it does not mean that anyone even has to be wrong. It simply means we are not all alike.
And that is what Paul wanted the believers in Corinth to understand (see, especially, chapters 12 through 14 of 1 Corinthians). God may work in our lives in different ways, even giving each believer gifts and expressions of faith that differ. But the purpose of those differences is not to weaken or destroy or divide the church. In fact, the opposite is true. Even the human body is balanced when half the body functions as a mirror reflection of the other. Not only are there hands that function differently than feet, but there is a right foot and a left foot. Each hand and foot, eye and ear (even to the halves of the brain itself) is designed as an opposite of the other. Yet they must work in perfect harmony, not in chaotic opposition. Walking requires both feet, while opposites, to work together.
So also, what can seem like opposite extremes within the body of Christ, the church, may very well be required to maintain balance and the forward motion of the whole church. We must not try to separate ourselves utterly from the believers who see things differently than we do. Like Paul and Barnabas, we may go our separate ways on some things, unable to agree. But we must not close our hearts and minds to the fact that we are still brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.
"For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves." (1 Corinthians 11:29 - NRSV)
The Bible is clear. God's Spirit has made it so. And that same Holy Spirit bears witness with our own hearts that we are God's children. We ought also, then, to be able to discern the whole body of Christ. We should be able to recognize fellow believers as fellow heirs of God in Christ. I believe that God not only makes it possible, but that He also expects it of us.