Discerning the Lord’s body
by Michael E. Brooks
“Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29, NKJV).
Worshipers in Bangladeshi Churches of Christ observe the communion in a distinctive manner. As the trays of bread and juice are passed each Christian takes the bread or cup and holds it until the entire congregation is served.
When those administering the service have returned to the front and taken their own emblems, they give the word and all eat or drink simultaneously.
I do not know the origin of this custom, nor what its founders had in view in establishing it. Nor do I know what every Bangladeshi Christian thinks as he is observing communion.
I have always been impressed by their method, however, and find it to be helpful in my efforts to “eat and drink in a worthy manner.”
There are differences of opinion about Paul’s specific application in the words quoted from 1 Corinthians 11 (and the broader context).
Many things might render one’s observance “unworthy,” from unrepented sin to carnal thoughts to improper elements in the Lord’s Supper. One thing that the Apostle specifically states that disqualifies worship, however, is to fail to “discern the Lord’s body.”
The context allows, and even suggests, two interpretations of this phrase. The first, and probably most commonly accepted in Churches of Christ, relates it to setting our minds upon the Cross. If the Lord’s Supper is a commemoration of Christ’s death, then certainly that must be our focus as we observe it.
Equally stressed in the context however is the fellowship of Christians who are worshiping together. The error being rebuked is that of discrimination against other Christians at the Lord’s table resulting in division and strife.
Paul regarded the Church as Christ’s body (Ephesians 1:22-23), just as certainly as was the flesh and blood he inhabited on earth. It is just as integral to his argument to take the point that one must be in communion (fellowship – see 1 Corinthians 10:16-17) with other Christians while observing the memorial of Jesus’ death.
Strife and contention at such a time invalidates and makes a mockery of the saving grace of God, given because of his love for all mankind.
The above reasoning makes me appreciate the local practice of eating and drinking the elements of the Supper simultaneously with other Christians. Certainly this is not the only way to observe the Communion, nor is it essential to the process of considering and communing with other Christians. But it is one more little thing that helps some of us at least.
Whatever our specific method of observing, within the clear Scriptural guidelines we are given, let us be grateful to God for the gift of his Son, for his saving sacrifice, and for the privilege we have of commemorating it.
It is a continuing miracle of God’s love that we who are totally unworthy can serve him in a worthy manner. Only God could provide the way.