Contend Earnestly: The Ins and Outs of Communion: What is Communion?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Ins and Outs of Communion: What is Communion?

For most of my life, actually up until about a year or two ago, I had a firm belief that communion was simply a ritualistic, or merely symbolic, thing we did that had really very little, if no, spiritual significance. I was more in the Zwingli scope of thought than the historical Reformed thought on the Lord's Supper. But, from studying some of the Scriptures, it seems as though that yes, it is definitely a picture of the cross and redemption, but also has some real spiritual significance. I am not thinking here like a Catholic would where they believe that they are eating the actual flesh of Christ and such, but what I am saying is that in some way, hard to explain, Christ's presence is found. Now, we know that Christ is omnipresent, so in me saying this, I don't cross any lines, but I also believe that when communion is taken as an ordinance of Christ, we find spiritual significance.

Here is what I mean.

We speak of when the pastor preaches that he preaches by the tongue of the Spirit. We pray that he is not speaking but the Holy Spirit. When we pray, we believe that it is not us praying, because we do not know how to pray, but the Spirit prays in our stead. So, when looking to the table, Paul tells us something very important in 1 Corinthians 10:16

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?
1 Corinthians 10:16

The term used here when speaking of the Supper is "sharing" or "koinonia" in the Greek. It has this idea of fellowship with another. This isn't simply meaning that you and I as we gather share together, but what is happening here is that this sharing, this fellowship is sharing together in Christ's blood and body. We, in some way, which I believe is further proved in 1 Corinthians 11 when using the term "remembrance" (which I will get into in the next post), share in the sufferings of Christ on the cross as we partake of the table.

We can see the significance of this term when Paul uses it when speaking of sharing or to have fellowship in the sufferings of Christ:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:7-11

“He who partakes of the cup, partakes of Christ’s blood.” But it may be asked here: ‘in what sense?’ This, of course, is not here explained. But it is in some real, veritable way predicable of all who partake. Otherwise the parallel with the idolatrous act rebuked, would not be sustained. Paul means to show that as by means of the sacrament we truly come into communion with Christ, so in the idolatrous feasts, whether a person intends it or not, he does worship the idol."
Christian Friedrich Kling

Lange, John Peter ; Schaff, Philip ; Kling, Christian Friedrich ; Poor, Daniel W.: A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures : 1 Corinthians. Bellingham, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2008, S. 210

Paul says, that the cup which has been in this manner blessed is κοινωνίαν — the communion of the blood of the Lord. It is asked, in what sense? Let contention be avoided, and there will be nothing of obscurity. It is true, that believers are united together by Christ’s blood, so as to become one body. It is also true, that a unity of this kind is with propriety termed κοινωνία(communion.) I make the same acknowledgment as to the bread. Farther, I observe what Paul immediately adds, as it were, by way of explanation — that we all become one body, because we are together partakers of the same bread. But whence, I pray you, comes that κοινωνία (communion)between us, but from this, that we are united to Christ in such a way, that

we are flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bones? (Ephesians 5:30.)

For we must first of all be incorporated (so to speak) into Christ, that we may be united to each other. In addition to this, Paul is not disputing at present merely in reference to a mutual fellowship among men, but as to the spiritual union between Christ and believers, with the view of drawing from this, that it is an intolerable sacrilege for them to be polluted by fellowship with idols. From the connection of the passage, therefore, we may conclude, that (κοινωνίαν) the communion of the blood is that connection which we have with the blood of Christ, when he engrafts all of us together into his body, that he may live in us, and we in him.
John Calvin

As these two point out, the reason that we can partake and be in fellowship with one another as the church, is because we commune with Christ BY his blood and body. The cup and the bread do not save us, but we should not reduce this time to merely symbolic usage either. It has real significance. But, again, we do not take it as far to say that we are literally participating in the blood and body of Christ as we partake. This is what the early non-Christians thought we meant and why they called early Christians, wrongly I might add, cannibals.

So, what we see within communion, or the Lord's Supper, is some real spiritual significance that is also symbolic showing our participation, fellowship and sharing of the blood and body of our crucified and risen Lord and Saviour. From here, we can now take on our responsibility given to us by Christ and Paul as we come to the table.


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