FROM TIM DOERING
In the last article we discussed TABLE MANNERS as we work toward unity in the Church. It is foundational groundwork for this article.
God’s Family Table Manners, PT 2
It’s important not to forget where we come from. It is equally important to recognize where we are. This is particularly true when we are invited to someone else’s table. The more we know about the host and the environment, the greater our sensitivity to their culture. This allows us to bless them as good guests.
In regional church unity efforts, we must recognize that we all sit at a single table. Ephesians 4:4-6 reminds us that:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
This underlying conviction guides Paul’s admonishment of the Corinthian church dealing with how they approach the table. First, he reminds them of whose one table it is by rebuking the attitude in which they come:
When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. (1 Corinthians 11:20)
Then he makes clear what that implies about how we approach the one table:
Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself… So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. (1 Corinthians 11:29-33)
What’s the point?
Table Manner #1:
Bear in mind at whose table we sit.
It’s not our table!
This is the Lord’s table.
We are family.
But we are family because HE invited us to sit at HIS table.
Within the body of Christ there have been various movements. Each historical tribe within the church has specific distinctives, perspectives, messages and cultures that tend to define them in the world of Christendom. Things such as:
The doctrinally devoted Presbyterians
The passion pursuing Pentecostals
The Bible believing Baptists
The simplicity serving Anabaptists
The altar focused high church
The pulpit centered low church
The mission driven evangelical Church
The historically rooted Roman Catholic Church
Those things are not bad. At the Lord’s table on the night he was betrayed there were:
The blue-collar fishermen
The money guys
The cerebral types
The soft-hearted guys
The practically minded guys
And who knows what other types of people
Jesus doesn’t discourage those unique characteristics. He is the creator and the biggest reason they are unique! He celebrates, highlights and empowers uniqueness. However, that was not who they were in the eyes of Jesus’ onlookers. To them they were the followers of Jesus. They were known by his name and his identity, not their own. And upon that confession, the Church, with all of its diversity, is built into a singular people. Because even more fundamental than uniqueness within the Church is oneness.
The Church is full of Defenders, Helpers, Revealers, Motivators, Supporters, Leaders & Sympathizers. We need each part to be fully herself if the beauty of Christ will be revealed. We are not attempting to lose the uniqueness of our individuality or the power of our cultural contributions, whether spiritual gifts, heritage, ethnicity or personality. It is in variety that unity is so beautiful. But they will not be preserved by focusing on them or holding them tightly.
We must remember, when we come to this table, true life is only found through death. Until we find our collective singular identity in Christ, our unique perspectives are nothing short of bad manners. This table is the sign of our shared covenant with Christ and one another. It is seen and represented by the broken bread and the poured-out cup. We don’t approach this table with vision, strength & pride. We approach it with contrition, faith and gratitude. We are not here because of our zeal, good doctrine, faithful service, personal holiness or compassion. We are here because of forgiveness and invitation through exactly what this bread and cup represent: his unyielding love, undying faithfulness, relentless pursuit and clear choice toward us.
This covenant and family work because He is the covenant keeper. We join and grow in that covenant by His goodness, not ours. That goes for everyone at His table. We cannot and should not try to approach the table from a place of personal or historic strength. We must forsake ourselves. As a first priority, we look to Christ and to those who are in HIM. In so doing we actually find our unique selves. If our table conversation, in any way, does not reflect those priorities, then no matter how unintentional, it divides the family.
It tends to be unhealthy for extended family to have discussions about politics at their holiday gatherings. It is better to focus on things that unify the family as “The Smiths” rather than squabbling over the lesser identities of who is democrat or republican. When seeking to walk in unity as the Church we must remember: at this table are not Jews or Gentiles, male or female, slave or free, complementarians or egalitarians, cessationists or continuationists, boomers or millennials, Latinos or Asian Americans. There are simply those who are “in Christ.” May our attitudes, conversations, actions, budgets and calendars reflect that reality. At HIS table this is just basic manners. Anything that does not break covenant with Jesus, must not break covenant between us. We do not promote our uniqueness but we celebrate others’. For above all, the culture of HIS family is love and unity found in a singular covenant. Paul’s case is very clear: where we are different, we are to be patient. Give the Lord of the table the time to do his best work.
So, who is in Christ? When and where do we draw lines? That would take a discussion on orthodoxy and orthopraxy. That is still to come along with a continuing perspective of the culture at the Lord’s table, observing how he engages tables. Stay tuned.
Perhaps it is a bit of poetic irony that allowed Host (shortened version of latin word for victim: hostis) to become a common term for the eucharist or communion bread. It’s not only His table. But he serves himself as the meal.