What does character have to do with it?

The last supper, Corinthian version

On this thursday of Passion week our thoughts turn to the Last Supper and the Biblical narratives that tell us all that went on there between Christ and his disciples. While the gospels are the main source for the actual initiation of the sacrament of communion, there is one other occurance of it recorded in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This text should also be carefully considered.

Robert Hart, writing in the Nov/Dec issue of  Touchstone Magazine, presents a strong argument for what he considers was a main issue in the letter, “That Corinthian Problem”.

“The disarray, foolishness, and sin that St.Paul addressed when writing his first extant epistle to the Church in Corinth have worked to our benefit, for they gave rise to teaching in the Scriptures that has been needed throughout the subsequent history of the Church, and that we need today.”

He ties this main problem and thus the main concern for the Apostle as he writes to several of the main themes dealt with in the letter and shows that these are not disconnected thoughts but all examples of the main problem in the church.

“The same people who have gifts to work miracles and to prophecy, can, at the same time, be guilty of creating and perpetuating sinful divisions within the Bodu of Christ. The same people who truly discern spirits, and are able to test and know which spirits are not of God, can at the same time be proud to have a notorious fornicator among them, allowing him to receive the Communion of Christ’s Body and Blood along with all the rest.”

Hart points out that “they knew the right doctrine about idols” and that Paul did not question their knowledge and orthodoxy. No, the major rebuke was reserved for their lack of love and consideration for oneanother (see the warning in I Cor. 8). I think that he is correct in his exegesis of the text and its purpose for us today as we approach the Lord’s Table.

As I have posted before there is a very common attitude present at the observance of this solemn moment in the worship of the church which misses entirely its significance. If it is, for example, only about my individual forgiveness of sin, and not about participation along with my fellow Christians in the death of the Head of the Body, then I have missed a large part of what God was accomplishing in the death of His only begotten Son; I am in fact “not discerning the Lord’s Body” (11:29).

One final word from Hart, demonstrates that this was exactly what the selfish Corinthians were doing as they approached the Supper of Our Lord (I Cor.11).

“How, in their knowledge so enriched, with utterances so gifted, did they miss the obvious point? How could they have been so blind to the simple rule of putting the needs of their brothers and sisters ahead of their own desires? They were orthodox. They were learned. They were gifted. They were also carnal.”

This article by Robert Hart has thrown a whole new light on Chapter 13  for me. I now agree that it was originally meant as a rebuke, ” a fire lit to melt their frozen, unloving, selfish hearts.” May God grant all His people to come to the Supper with an unselfish attitude of gratitude for what He has accomplished to free us from our sin of selfishness and make us partakers of His divine nature.

Related: The Communion of Saints-A.W.Tozer

A small, insignificant meeting in Madison County, Kentucky.

Sunday evening, a small group of us met together with a special guest, Dr.John H. Armstrong, President of ACT3 Ministries.( see previous post- Equipping Leaders for Unity). It was a very informal time of admittance into an intimate and personal audience with our guest who spoke to us about many experiences in the past as well as his forthcoming book. As if to highlight what we experienced, one of those present closed with a prayer of thanksgiving and intercession for this servant of God, after reading from this text of Holy Scripture:

8 “Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. 10 For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” (Zechariah 4)

John has written at least twelve books over the years; all about his three passions: Christ, Holy Scripture, and Christ’s Church. He has made significant contributions to the churches, advocating the celebration of unity and the relentless pursuit for greater understanding of Christians for traditions other than their own . 

John Armstrong's new book (Zondervan- March 2010)

John Armstrong's new book (Zondervan- March 2010)

 Among John’s greatest gifts to the church at large, are the books in which he served as the general editor:” The Compromised Church” (1998),”The Glory of Christ” (2002), “Understanding Four Views on Baptism” (2007), and “Understanding Four Views on The Lord’s Supper” (2007). In each of these books, John brings his own wealth of knowledge of the historical churches and their doctrines as the context for authors presenting particular views on key issues of the Christian Church. His introduction serves to set the purpose and focus of the dialogue and introduce the featured contributors. Then following the presentations, John has a concluding chapter, summarizing the theme and suggesting lessons for all to be edified. Then he adds a bibliography of resources for further study. I realize that not all Christians and even leaders are ready to benefit from such contributions, but some of us are indebted to John for greatly enhancing our understanding of the family of Christ in all of her diversity.
Sometimes, the greatest gems for me personally have come from the “appendix” where additional quotes are included. In his book on the Lord’s Supper, I am finding some real treasures. I conclude with one from Emil Brunner:
“Why did Jesus command the observation of this rite? He did not give his disciples any other similiar instructions about divine worship. Why this? Is it not sufficient to preach and believe his gospel, the gospel of his atoning death? Why this ceremony in our churches?
For a long time I asked myself this question. . .without finding the right answer, until the answer sprang to my mind form this text (I Corinthians 10:16-17): we must note the dual meaning of the phrase ‘body of Christ’. On the one hand it refers to the body broken for us on the cross of Golgotha; this is symbolized or figuratively expressed in the broken bread, just as the outpoured wine represents the blood of Christ outpoured for us on the cross. That is the usual interpretation which we are familiar with from our confirmation instruction. It is correct insofar as it goes, but it is incomplete. For the body of Christ means in the New Testament something else: the church. The latter is the body of Christ because Christians are incorporated into the eternal Christ by faith and the Holy Spirit. Thus our text says: ‘ We who are many, are one body’. There arises from us, who are a multiplicity of individuals, a unity, something whole and cohesive, kneeded together.”
Brunner goes on to say what I firmly believe is the missing function in most celebrations of the Lord’s Table: “What is effected through the common participation in the atoning death of Jesus Christ is the unity of the church. . . a miracle does take place in that those individuals who formerly were their own lord and master now are ruled by the one Lord, and to form a manifold of separate individuals, each living and caring for themselves, there arises a unity, one body, of which each believer is a member and Jesus Christ the Head, controlling and guiding all.”
Can anything be more central than this when we come together to eat the bread and drink the wine? Of course Jesus the Christ, the Head of the Body himself, is in our midst reminding us all that He is the New Humanity and we are participants by virtue of His work in us constituting the unity which He controls and directs-we are celebrating the fruit and travail of His sacrifice on the cross which is the Body of Christ. And we will faithfully do this until He returns with the future consumation and glorification of what is now still under construction.
Thank you John for taking the time to share yourself and your passions and vision with us. It truly will be a night to remember for all of us present.