Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:14-17)When we break bread, what does it mean? What does it really mean? What did Jesus think it meant and what did Paul think it meant? I cannot fathom that it was intended as a ritual nor that it was something intended to be compartmentalized one local church at a time. Most views of the Supper are far too limited, reducing it to a ritualistic event controlled by local church authorities, something internalized with the four walls of "my church" with no sense of real connection to the broader church and the Kingdom. Where I have come down on this question is that the Supper, the act of the church coming together to break bread as one people of God, speaks not just of doctrine (affirming the life, death, resurrection and imminent return of the Christ) but also of the unity in our common salvation. It is tragically not treated as the unifying act that it is.
The Supper cannot be held hostage or used as a stick to bring people into line (see my prior post Holding His Table Hostage). When we couple the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 with his teaching on the Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, we see a picture of the one body, the church, sharing in one bread, the bread of life who is Christ Jesus. We don't each have our own personal Jesus that we share among our local church but we are all a small but precious part of the very same Body, even with those we disagree with or those who annoy us! The One that saved me is the same as One that saved every other Christian, in the same way and with the same mission. We have no right and we should have no desire to insist that others meet us where we are before sharing in the expression of the universal faith of the entire church that is the very essence of the Supper.
When we demand conformity as the price of admission for access to the Lord's Supper, we succeed only in surrounding ourselves with other Christians who look and act just like us, great for making us comfortable and secure in our traditions but not so great for fostering a true sense of unity in the church, nor for welcoming new believers into the church. As I look back, I rarely find myself challenged and stretched and growing in the faith when I was safely cocooned in a homogeneous group. Just the opposite. A group marked by compulsory homogeneity is fertile soil for the church to stagnate and slip into pride and isolationism. I believe in women covering their heads. If a sister shares the Supper with us who is not covered, does that somehow taint it for me because I am right and she is wrong? Do our disagreements trump what Jesus did and we celebrate when we break bread? No!
The Supper should be the one place where we can, if not set aside, at least suspend our personal preferences, traditions and pet peeves for the sake of our oneness in Christ. It required the death and resurrection of the sinless Son of God to bring the church into being, is it too much to ask that we get along over a shared meal? There are few acts that are more simple and basic than sharing a meal and we have managed to make a divisive, confused mess of even that. No matter who we are, where we "go to church" or even if we "go to church" at all, regardless of denomination or sect, every Christian is part of the adopted family of God and if we all partake of the one bread as one body, shouldn't that hold especially true when it comes to the breaking of actual bread?
It is the height of hubris for a poor redeemed sinner, chosen and saved by the King of the universe, to dictate terms to others who are no different, no better and no worse, before sharing the Table that the Lord Himself has set. We might hide it behind declarations of concern for "our people" or appeals to doctrinal precision standing firm against error but it comes right down to arrogance to the core, pure and simple.
Why is the church, intended as a source of support and joy, so often a source of contention and angst? Why is unity such an elusive ideal? More on that later...