The last few weeks, I’ve been writing about the crazy things Christians think. The topic I’d like to address this week, however, is not only a crazy thing Christians think but a sad one.

It has to do with what we call communion.

Ever since I’ve been a believer in Jesus, I have taken “communion” in church, while sitting in a pew and eating a tiny wafer with a small glass of grape juice. The pastor, who was sometimes me, read from 1 Corinthians: “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” (1 Corinthians 11:23–28). 1

We were instructed, and I instructed, based upon these verses, that Christians were to examine themselves and get things right with the Lord by confessing their sins so they wouldn’t be drinking the cup in “an unworthy manner,” as Paul wrote.

My gigantic error was that I failed—and every pastor I’ve sat under has failed—to read the next few verses, which say, “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 11:29–34).

What? Examining ourselves isn’t primarily about our personal sin but discerning the body?

Why in the world would Paul say that?

Paul would say that because of the verses that preceded this portion on communion:

“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” (1 Corinthians 11:17–22).

Paul was upset with the Corinthians because the sinful way they conducted themselves at the Lord’s Supper. Was it because they didn’t examine themselves and confess their personal sins? No, there were divisions in the church, and those divisions were caused by the wealth and position of some Christians there. Some were pushing themselves ahead of others and taking the lion’s share of the food and wine, even to the point of drunkenness. When they did that, they were humiliating “those who had nothing,” Paul wrote. Their actions were a demonstration of power. Surely, these more important ones had “houses to eat and drink in,” so why were they eating so much at the Lord’s table? They were flaunting their position and influence, making known their power and importance to others. By doing so, they were creating at least two classes—or divisions—of people: the ones who had the goods and those who didn’t—and there were probably folks some in-between.

This was not the kind of fellowship Jesus wanted. He wanted humble fellowship among His followers as they remembered His sacrifice—for everyone—regardless of status or station, because everyone who attended those suppers of fellowship were sinners. None of them was to be lifted up above another. The Corinthians were dishonoring Jesus—the only One deserving praise—as well as one another.

Paul said this behavior was making them weak and ill—and some had died.

Pretty serious stuff, wouldn’t you agree?

Please note that the Christians in Corinth were eating a meal together—not a tiny wafer and a bit of grape juice.

Why has the church missed the point of this passage?

Ignorance of Scripture. We simply haven’t read this passage in context.

I hadn’t read or understood it in context.

The result?

Fellowship—which is what communion means—has disappeared during our church services. It is no longer possible for us to have fellowship at a meal this way in our churches. It’s much easier to just serve the little portions, sit by ourselves with our little, pathetic wafers, pray, and be done with it. Really. How else could you “do communion” with 200, 500, 5,000 people? You can’t.

We don’t.

We have sanitized what the bible calls “communion.” The Greek word is “koinonia,” which is variously translated “participation” and “fellowship.” Participation with believers. Fellowship with believers. We have diminished ourselves and impoverished our fellowship not only with ourselves but with Jesus and missed the real meaning of 1 Corinthians 11.


And sad.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.