“I am spiritual, not religious.” So say many Americans. This is a surprisingly tempting point of view. For one thing, “spiritual not religious” is so vague and undefined that it can mean almost whatever you want. Yet it also sounds like you are so wise and can see right through the hypocrisy of all those other bad people, those “religious” people.
But I think that the saying, “spiritual, not religious” is tempting because it gives people a ticket out of organized religion, as they call it. The saying transforms Christianity, at least in their thinking, into a completely individualistic religion. “Spiritual” means whatever I want it to, and besides that, will almost certainly have to do with my feelings and self-chosen actions. I don’t need to belong to any kind of group or congregation. I don’t have to submit to discipline or God’s law, because that sounds way too much like legalism. So all I’m left with is feelings and self-chosen actions, and those are fun and fulfilling, or if they’re not, then I can decide that they are bad, religious things, and I can get rid of them if I want. So I can do or not do whatever I want, all the while whitewashing my egotistical exercises as being “spiritual”.
As if he was seeing such people across the centuries, Saint Paul says, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the communion of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The Holy Spirit, through Paul, tells Christians that you were not called to sit at home and avoid other people, and maybe think fond thoughts about Christ and read your favorite Bible verses now and then, so you feel like you are a virtuous, spiritual person. No, you were called to a fellowship. You were called to belong to the Body of Christ, His holy Bride, the Church. If you will not have the Church as your Mother, then you cannot have God as your Father. In other words, God called you to be in this communion of saints, so avoiding this communion means rejecting God’s call.
Paul also models one aspect of this communion. He does not treat the Corinthians as they deserved. They had a lot of problems and divisions in that congregation. Paul could have said, “You are not acting like the Church of God! From now on I will treat you like you are outsiders who have abandoned your faith in Christ.” No, Paul says that he is thankful for their faith in Jesus Christ. He is thankful that God is preserving them in the one true faith. He is thankful that they are filled with the gifts of God’s grace and the knowledge of Christ.
This is hard to do. When you look at brothers in Christ and it sure looks like they are not acting the way they should, it is tempting to give up on them and separate yourself from the Body of Christ. But remember that all of us in our own ways sin. We all should do better. In grace, we should treat our brothers as we would want to be treated: overlooking sin and putting the best construction on everything.
True, there is a time for discipline in the Church when there is sin without repentance. But the purpose of discipline is to call us away from sin and to create in us sorrow for sin and a desire to do better, rather than being comfortable in our sin. Discipline in the Church is not the same as judging a fellow believer as being inferior because of his sin.
But if we turn up our noses at the sins of others as if they are not worthy of our presence, then we are not acting as a communion of saints. If we think others are annoying or irritating and we would rather sit at home then be a part of the fellowship, then we are acting like pharisees. God forbid! Rather, we should put up with the idiosyncrasies of others, and let love cover over a multitude of sins. In this way, we act as the Body of Christ.
It helps to remember that everything we receive is a gift from God’s grace. He freely gives to sinners all the blessings His fatherly heart wants for us. What do we have that we have earned? Nothing at all. Our faith in Christ is a gift, and so is Christ, the Son of God. Our sins earned nothing but condemnation and rejection by God. But instead He drew us to Himself through His Son.
In Christ we will be kept blameless on the Last Day. We could not be blameless by ourselves. But Christ shed precious, holy Blood on our behalf. Because of that Blood, we are declared righteous as God’s free gift. Nor could we remain in this faith to the end, since our perverse sinful flesh would surely lead us away from life and salvation. But God preserves us in the faith to the end so that we will stand blameless before His throne.
On the other hand, the Corinthians wanted to think that there were classes and ranks of believers. Some had special spiritual gifts. Some were followers of the so-called “right” preacher. They thought that they were special and better in their own ways.
But if all we have is a gift that we receive from God, how can we boast we are better than others? If we are all a communion of sinners who share in the redemption of Christ, how can one claim to be more special than another? God banish such thoughts among us.
The most visible manifestation of our communion is the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. At the Altar, all come together in the same condition. None are righteous in themselves. Here we receive pure gifts that we do not deserve.
The Supper is not an expression of individuality. No one here can say, “Aha! I receive something better than the others!” No, all receive alike. One may happen to receive unworthily, but that is a whole other question concerning the rejection of the gift Christ gives. They still receive the same gift, but some receive it to their judgment. As believers who trust His Word and promise, we receive the Body and Blood in repentance and faith for the forgiveness of sins.
Did you earn the forgiveness given here? Of course not. You do not even deserve to approach this Altar. None of us do. The Food of Grace given here is too amazing, too holy, far too valuable for poor sinners like us. But God, who overflows with grace, gives His precious gifts even to us.
In Christ, we are held together as one communion. In grace, we are one, even though, if left to ourselves, we become squabbling, bickering, divisive individualists who would rather do our own thing than submit to a body of such misfits as can be found here. But by grace, we misfits are the glorious Body of Christ. We are the wondrous saints gathered around the majestic gifts of the Father. We stand together here as one, and we shall stand together at the Judgment blameless in our Lord. For He will preserve His own Body, the Bride He loves, US, to the very end.
In His gracious Name. Amen.
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