Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Bonds and Bounds of Fellowship

This is sermon #24 from First Corinthians. I have edited this one more than usual since the subject covers some aspects of the Church and Communion and my understanding of those subjects is quite different than 20 years ago. Yet, I have maintained the main point I made in this sermon when it was first written. I would cover this passage differently today, but there is still something here for us.

1 Corinthians 10:14-22


What does it mean to belong to the Church? Of course the New Testament does not talk about formal “membership” as such, but the idea is implicit in many places. This passage also concludes the long argument about going to pagan temple feasts.

"What does going to pagan temple feasts have to do with the implication of belonging to the Church?" you might ask. Some people do not see a connection between identification with the Church and anything else at all. For them, the idea of “separation of church and state” is absolutized and extended to everything else: separation of church and business; separation of church and entertainment; separation of church and social life; separation of church and relationships. The word here is that belonging to the Church has everything to do with everything else in a Christian’s life.

Belonging to the Church cannot be separated from belonging to Jesus. If we belong to Jesus, we are called to identify with his Church. And if Jesus is our Master, then it matters what he thinks of where we go, what we do, who we are with, and how we conduct ourselves at any time. Let's see how these verses say that.

The foundation for the idea here is the Christian meal –– Communion (or, the Lord’s Table). It is one of the things that happens in the context of the Church. The Lord's Table is for people in the Church (and keep in mind the basis for someone being in the Church).

Why is the Lord's Table so special? V16 says it is a participation in the body and blood of Christ. Historically, in space and time, Jesus' sacrifice was once for all (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 25-28), yet at the Table (today often called the Altar) we enter into its eternal verity. Merely eating the bread and drinking the cup is not what makes us Christians; we eat the bread and drink the cup because we are Christians, but there is more.

What does it mean that the bread and cup is a participation? The answer is multi-faceted, but one consideration comes from a word meaning. The word for participation here is the word, koinonia, which can also mean "fellowship." The basic idea is "to share with someone in something." So, who and what is shared in the Lord's Supper?

In v17 where we read, one loaf.... one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. The Church is a fellowship in the Spirit that binds Christians together in a unique community, the basis of which is a common salvation and a mutual allegiance to the kingdom of God, which transcends our present world. The Lord's Table (which is a central aspect of belonging to the Church) is a tangible way of entering into the very life of Jesus –– and having his very self come into us in a mystical way. That is the ultimate bond, the unity, of Christian identity.

Now because those basic things are true, there is a commonality –– a solidarity –– among the people who are in the Church. Because those things are true in an individual's life and are the common foundation in all those who belong to Christ, the Church becomes the place where we recognize commitment in each other and encourage each other in responses that will keep commitment to Christ healthy and growing.

That is what Christians are supposed to do. And why do they (we) do that? It is because we are partakers of Christ. Christians are in fellowship with God and each other through Jesus Christ. Everything we do affects other Christians as well as our own relationship with God. That is why we are called to live a holy life, apart from sin and separated unto Christ.

That's why the instruction was so explicit back in 6:18 –– flee from sexual immorality. That is why the instruction is so explicit here in v14 –– flee idolatry. When a person identifies with Christ, when people commit to the Church, a choice is made which, by its very nature, precludes other choices. Thus the direct statement in v21 –– You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons.

Notice v20 –– I do not want you to be participants with demons. Can you catch the significance if I tell you the word for "participants" there is koinonous? The idea is "Do not have koinonia with the demonic." You cannot and have fellowship with Christ at the same time.

You see, there are some activities and some situations where the involvement of a Christian is a compromise of faith. Have you truly given yourself to Christ? Do you really mean it when you profess faith in Christ? If so, belonging to Christ and belonging to his Church governs your every choice. If you belong to the Church for the right reason you have chosen to identify with Jesus, and to avoid anything that is an identification with “the other side.”

I do not think many Christians in our modern Western culture think much about the de-monic. The Christians that do talk about it often fall into the opposite error and blame everything that goes wrong on direct demonic activity. C.S. Lewis was right, I think, when he cautioned against ignoring demons or being too intrigued or awed by them.

The Bible is clear that there is only one God. Idols are not really gods at all. In that sense there is no such thing as idolatry and so the Corinthians were right. But.... in any false worship there is an evil presence. In places and activities dedicated to a wrong understanding of God, and in places and activities dedicated to immorality, it is right to expect the power and influence of the demonic. There are evil powers in our world which do not want God or his ways, and we as Christians are involved in the resulting conflict –– whether we want to be or not.

Religions that do not recognize and honor the deity and authority of Jesus Christ can be used by the demonic to keep people from truly coming to God. Please understand, that is not to say the people involved in them are willfully and explicitly cooperating with demons; it is only a recognition that spiritual forces are involved in things that touch our lives in significant ways, and we need to be careful what we choose to do and who we choose to do it with.

Or, consider so-called "adult book stores" or gambling casinos with organized crime connections.... those are places today that might not be so far removed from the atmosphere at the pagan temples. I use those extreme examples to make the point; it needn't be so extreme for us to take care.

The heart of the matter here is the existence of spiritual bonds among people. Those spiritual bonds are in the Church, and we are likely to recognize that to some degree. The thing we may not recognize is how far those bonds extend. Our brothers and sisters on Sunday are also our brothers and sisters Monday through Saturday; promises made in the church extend beyond the church, and coming to the Lord's Table at Communion means something besides personal spiritual experience.

Another thing we may not recognize so readily, though, is that just as Christians have a spiritual bond, so do people that are anti-Christian. There is a spirit at work among party revelers and political players and cut-throat financiers that goes counter to the Spirit of Christ. Christians are not to have koinonia with those kinds of people. That is to say there are bounds to Christian fellowship and activity once a person commits to the bonds.

People who are in the Church for the right reason understand the bonds that tie us together. They are the bonds symbolized when we take the bread and the cup and say that we are one in Jesus Christ. When we understand and accept those bonds, we accept the bounds.

Hear this word from the Scriptures –– you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. The bonds that tie us to each other and to the Lord are also our boundaries. Are you looking to our Lord's Spirit to show you what the boundaries are in your life?

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