The One Table of the Lord
Anyone who reads 1 Corinthians 11 will notice how deeply Paul felt about the correct observance of the Lordís Supper. Why has he expended so much powder and shot on the wealthy who went ahead and ate before the poorer members of the congregation had arrived? Because he is genuinely concerned about the unity of the Body, and he is furious to find one segment of the church being sidelined. There is, he argues, only one table of the Lord. There are not separate tables for the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the Jew and the Gentile, the free and the slave, the male and the female, the cleric and the layperson Ė or, we might add today, the home-schooler and the government-schooler, the agrarian and the suburbanite, the Republican and the Democrat, etc. Paulís plain speaking in this chapter has a very practical purpose: ďTherefore, my brothers, when you gather to eat, wait for each otherĒ (1 Cor. 11:33).
It is, I think, a fair inference from the text that any practice of communion that separates one kind of believer from another kind would fall under Paulís censure. An example might be selecting the heads of households to serve the elements to their families. No doubt such a practice has a very noble motive, to honor the family unit and to allow fathers to serve their kith and kin. But it is easy to overlook the fact that the unity of the Body of Christ is not determined by physical or familial bonds. There cannot be separate tables of the Lord for families and singles any more than there can be separate tables for the wealthy and the poor!
Now it is quite true that the New Testament nowhere teaches that families are to be segregated by age when the church assembles; and Eph. 6:1 clearly implies that children were present when the Body gathered. These facts combine to make a forceful argument for an age-integrated philosophy of ministry, as I have frequently argued. We know from 1 Corinthians 11 that love feasts accompanied the Lordís Supper, a fact also attested by Jude 12, so that I can imagine the early communion service to be much like a family mealtime. We also know, however, that greed had broken out at the love feasts, and the dangers of abuse were so great that Paul had to deal with the problem at length. The wealthy were being self-willed. They were contemptuous of others and cared nothing about the consequences. Such I take to be the gist of Paulís rebuke in 1 Corinthians 11.
Thus love for the brethren is to be the distinguishing mark of the gathered church. But love entails guarding the Spirit-given unity from destruction by prejudice, narrowness, and the refusal to accept a brother Christian for who he is in Christ. What, then, is the danger of serving the elements by families? It is, I believe, the subtle implication that the basis for our unity as believers is oneís marital or family status. However different our background, God loves all His children equally. Moreover, we are all equally sinners: forgiven sinners, but sinners nonetheless. None is superior to the other, none inferior. In Charles Wesleyís words:
Oh how shall I the goodness tell,
Father, which Thou to me hast showed?
That I, a child of wrath and hell,
I shall be called a child of God.
We do well to remember this truth whenever we observe the Lordís Supper. Are we arrogant? Let us recall that arrogance had ruined the Corinthiansí love feasts. Are we guilty of replacing the Gospel with an emphasis upon marriage? Let us remember Paulís instruction in 1 Corinthians 7: as high and holy as marriage is, singleness is not an inferior status for the Christian. Why, then, should there be one table of the Lord for the married and one for those who are not? How ironic it would be to make the observance of the Lordís Supper a celebration of patriarchy, marital status, or social standing!
When we gather, let us proclaim the one table of the Lord at which all blood-bought believers are welcome.
March 21, 2006
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.