Posted On April 16, 2018

Don’t Get Woke. Get to Know Your Local Church Brethren.

by | Apr 16, 2018 | Theology

Nestled within 1 Corinthians 11, we find a likely familiar passage concerning the Lord’s Table which pertains to the current social media conversation on racism and socioeconomic class. Critical race theory is probably the last topic I want to write about at the moment, but it certainly is the topic du jour, so let’s take it on with some Scripture. Enough may be said about Amos 5 with David Platt’s talk at T4G, so let’s take a bit of a different angle here.

concrete worker

I Do Not Commend You

We know from the context of 1 Cor 1:10–25 that these divisions had some to do with the aggrandizement of worldly wisdom: “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” “I follow Christ,” etc. But it’s the cross that destroys the “wisdom of the wise” and the “discernment of the discerning.”

Following his commendation of the Corinthian church in 1 Cor 11:1–16, Paul goes on to a passage of rebuke. Most of us are familiar with the portion on the Lord’s Table, as it gives the injunction against taking the Table in an unworthy manner. But it’s also too easy to miss some of the interpersonal context of why Paul is giving this injunction.

“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.”

(1 Corinthians 11:17–34 ESV)

What exactly was going on here with their divisions? Rather than going back to his earlier discourse on worldly wisdom, Paul cites their practice of not waiting for one another. “For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.” Paul goes on in the next paragraph to recite what Jesus taught about the Table, and then he warns the Corinthians that “Whoever…eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty.” We generally take that last quote to mean that we should examine ourselves and confess any unconfessed sins we might have forgotten or neglected over the course of the past week or month. We also take this to mean that unbelievers should not share in the Lord’s Table. These are absolutely valid applications but are not Paul’s particular point. The particular “unworthy manner” in which the Corinthians are taking the bread and the cup is not having consideration for one another. 

a empty dinner plate, post-meal

The particular 'unworthy manner' in which the Corinthians are taking the bread and the cup is not having consideration for one another. Click To Tweet

What Divided the Lord’s Table?

What accounts for this lack of consideration? It most likely had to do with socioeconomic class distinctions whereby the rich would get better meals than the poor, i.e. “those who have nothing.” Gordon Fee writes concerning the three likely situations:

(1) Some place the emphasis on “each one” and suggest that the picture is that of intense individualism, in which “ ‘each’ enjoys their ‘own supper’ instead of the Lord’s Supper, obviously not only to one’s bodily enjoyment, but to their spiritual edification.”

(2) Others emphasize the verb “goes ahead with,” understanding it to mean “to take beforehand.” In conjunction with the verb “wait for” at the end of the passage (v. 33), this is understood to mean that some, apparently the rich, ate their own sumptuous meals before others (slaves and poor freedmen) were able to arrive.

(3) Theissen has emphasized the word idion (“one’s own”), for which he shows evidence that it can mean “private.” He posits that the rich were eating their private meals at the Lord’s Supper, which included both an earlier starting time and privileged portions not available to the others. A modified version of this position has been offered by Winter, who sees the problem as the rich “devouring” their private meals in the presence of the “have-nots,” but more in terms of their simply not sharing with them.

Of these options, the first is the least likely, since it does not speak to the sociological issue that emerges in “some being hungry” and in “despising those who have nothing.” Some form of the third seems most likely, although one cannot rule out altogether the possibility that something like option 2 is also involved. The details of the sentence seem to support this view. [1]

The difference between options 2 and 3 is rather minor, but each is superior to option 1. In short, the Corinthian church had allowed the Lord’s Table to become divided over class distinctions.

first responder vehicles responding to a nighttime situation

Photo by Steven Depolo

In short, the Corinthian church had allowed the Lord's Table to become divided over class distinctions. Click To Tweet

What Then Should We Do About Class Distinctions?

Paul gives some very pragmatic advice about this matter: “When you come together to eat, wait for one another.” We may properly extrapolate, have proper consideration for one another’s needs.

Paul’s silence towards what the emerging culture of ‘Christian’ critical race theory otherwise might expect speaks loudly to the present issue. There is no specific aim towards a “proper” mix of classes and ethnicities. There is no imperative towards politically or socially solving longstanding class disparities. The ultimate imperative is to love one another, even within the pitfalls of any particular society, class distinctions being set completely aside, meeting together physically, bearing one another’s needs, so as to honor what the Lord’s Table remembers, Christ’s vicarious death on our behalf, not just my behalf.

While economic statistics continue to show systemic disparities in income level, education, etc. that correlate to race, your Christian brother or sister is not a racial statistic. You may have brothers or sisters who have limited ability to support their families financially. You may have brothers or sisters whose ability to meet physically with the body of believers is limited due to illness or occupation. Some of those occupations even might include first responders or military. What are we doing for them?

Don’t get woke. Get to know your local church brethren and how you can serve them.

Don't get woke. Get to know your local church brethren and how you can serve them. Click To Tweet

[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament. Revised ed., Accordance ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 598–599. Paragraph breaks added. https://accordance.bible/link/read/NICNT-1_Corin#5430

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