War and Peace in the Church: How Communion Helps

One casualty of online culture is the principle of reconciliation Jesus taught in Matthew 18:15–17:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

It is more common today to “tweet at” a distant antagonist, or to “call out” whatever human failing is deemed the latest unforgivable sin.

The Lord Jesus has provided a blessed patch of peace we can share: the communion table. Communion is meant to restore and strengthen peace among us. It promotes peace first through what it is, and second by what it requires.

Meal of Remembrance

Communion promotes peace first through what it is: a meal of remembrance. Sidestepping sacramental disputes for the moment, I think we can all agree on this: communion helps us remember Jesus and his atoning work for us (1 Cor. 11:24–26). It is a proclamation of his death; a touch, taste, and see sermon that heralds the wrath-appeasing and sin-atoning work of Christ until he comes.

Jesus has provided a blessed patch of peace we can share: the communion table.

The communion meal reminds warring Christians that their shared fallen condition has been redeemed through the substitutionary death of their shared Savior. Communion preaches the cross, where guilty sinners can draw near to meet on level ground. It is at the foot of the cross—with broken bread and sacred cup in hand—where we are reminded that in the death of Jesus our hostility has died (Eph. 2:16–17). Communion interrupts our relational bloodletting, even if only for a few moments, and quietly unites our hearts in peace. If for no other reason than this, we would do well to observe the Lord’s Supper together as frequently as circumstances permit.

Means of Reconciliation

Communion also fosters peace by what it requires: a pursuit of reconciliation. Rightly practiced, communion observance leads to consistent pre-communion soul-searching and reconciliation. Similar to what Jesus says about being reconciled with each other before offering sacrifices to God (Matt. 5:23–26), Paul argues we should examine our hearts and the state of our relationships before approaching the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 11:28–29).

According to Paul, the Lord’s Supper is a true sharing by the body of Christ (the church) of the body of Christ (his nearness intimately experienced by faith; 1 Cor. 10:16). We are in fellowship with each other as we share fellowship with Jesus in his holy supper (1 Cor. 10:16–17).

This vertical and horizontal communion should make us careful how we participate, lest we eat and drink in an unworthy manner (1 Cor. 11:27), as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 11:17–32 and throughout his letter. We eat and drink unworthily when we destroy peace by:

Indeed, if we eat the meal without first examining our hearts to identify and address these issues, we annul the Lord’s Supper and turn it into an experience with no soul-nourishing grace whatsoever (1 Cor. 11:17–20). In light of how seriously Paul addresses this concern in the first-century church, one wonders how he might respond if he were to visit some of our churches today. There is every reason to believe he would not be pleased (1 Cor. 11:17, 22).

There is also every reason to wonder if God’s discipline might soon be our portion (1 Cor. 11:27–32). Paul admonishes us to “examine ourselves” before we participate in the meal, lest we eat and drink the Father’s disciplinary judgment to ourselves (1 Cor. 11:23–32).

All of this makes the Lord’s Supper, and the warnings attached to it, a great blessing for our relationships. It turns each approaching communion meal into a sobering cue to check our relationships and make sure we’re at peace with others. No wonder Augustine called this sacrament “the bond of love.”

Let’s Break Bread Together

Practicing communion as a bond of love shortens our accounts by compelling us to make peace before returning to the table. To that end, questions like these may serve us all as we prepare to partake:

  • Have I forgiven all who have asked for it?
  • Have I confessed my offenses against others—and pleaded their forgiveness?
  • Have I sought reconciliation with those who have hurt me?
  • Am I bitter toward anyone?
  • Am I prejudiced toward people of another color or culture?
  • Am I marked more by peace and affection, or by anger and offense?
  • Do I refer to them more than we when talking about any group of believers?
  • Do I look down on the poor, the blue-collared, the less-educated in my life?
  • Have I done all I can do to be at peace with everyone?
  • Can I sincerely embrace with love all who will join me in communion today?

As often as possible, let us break bread together in reconciled peace, with all humility and reverence. If we seem unable to find peace anywhere else, let us at least find it here, standing on a small blood-stained patch of ground at the foot of the cross, with bread and cup in hand.

Written by: TIM SHOREY

First published 09.03.21: War and Peace in the Church: How Communion Helps (thegospelcoalition.org)

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