The Lord's Table
The only place where the expression “[the] Lord’s table” occurs is in 1 Corinthians 10: 21, and it should be noted that the saints are not viewed in that chapter as convened or assembled. In chapter 11 they are, and that is where “[the] Lord’s supper” (1 Cor. 11: 20) is spoken about. In chapter 10 the subject is the communion (or fellowship) that we are identified with. Many have the idea that the expression “[the] Lord’s table” refers to the piece of furniture on which the emblems of the Lord’s supper are placed, but that is not the thought at all. The apostle makes an analogy between his subject and “Israel according to flesh” (1 Cor. 10: 18), and though Israel were clearly not always eating the sacrifices, they were always in communion with the altar of Jehovah. Being characterised by eating such sacrifices put them in the fellowship of the altar at which they were offered. This is the idea of the “table”. Thus “the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not [the] communion of the blood of the Christ? The bread which we break, is it not [the] communion of the body of the Christ? … Ye cannot drink [the] Lord’s cup, and [the] cup of demons: ye cannot partake of [the] Lord’s table, and of [the] table of demons” (vs 16, 21, my emphasis). People speak of ‘taking communion’ but actually, as one who is characterised by partaking of the cup and loaf, I am always in that communion—I do not leave it when I go home. The Lord’s table is the fellowship of His death—not a piece of furniture to which Scripture attaches no importance.
Again, just as the whole nation of Israel stood identified with their altar, and were viewed as in the fellowship of that of which they ate, so the whole Christian company were viewed by the apostle as in the fellowship of the death of Christ (of His blood and of His body). As such, they were morally responsible to ensure that nothing they were associated with was incompatible with the fellowship of Christ’s death. The application was simple in Corinthian days, when the united Christian company stood in sharp contrast to heathenism, but it is not so easy now when large swathes of the world are professedly Christian, and when no particular company can be viewed as the Church of God in such and such a place. Instead of clamouring that ‘we’ have spread the table (whoever the ‘we’ may be), let us see to it instead that we refuse associations that are morally incompatible with the death of Christ. The principle of separation from evil is plainly found in 1 Corinthians 10, and this is the simple moral application of the Lord’s table. If we are in the truth of this, separation will characterise us, and not pretentious and pathetic ecclesiastical assertions. Some of the strictures on well–known ‘non–sectarian’ Christian groupings are perfectly justified—as, for example, on attempts to make out that the Lord’s table is with such and such and nowhere else, and on talk of ‘spreading the table’, ‘putting away from the table’ and ‘receiving to the table’.
The utter breakdown and ruin of the Church as a responsible vessel on earth, raises a serious question, namely, whether Scripture gives light for the path of an individual believer who is exercised as to what is suitable to the Lord. The ruin of the church cannot be ignored by anyone who professes to be distressed at the denominationalism in which the mass of true Christians undoubtedly are, and even more so by the hypocritical sectarianism of those who profess to have rejected denominationalism. What is he to do? The remedy commonly put forward is that the divisions should be given up, and all Christians should be allowed to “break bread” without reference to their associations. And yet this flies in the teeth of the teaching of 1 Cor. 10 that associations are all important! Paul does not commend but condemns the carelessness of the Corinthians in this respect. No, I am not saying that other Christian groups are “[the] table of demons” (v 21), and would strongly repudiate such a wicked idea, but nor does the passage teach that the faithful Christian should just sink his differences with every believer he comes across. The Scriptural remedy, I have no doubt, is found in 2 Timothy 2. That chapter gives light to the individual Christian that if it be no longer possible to purge out iniquity from the mass of the profession, he can at least purge himself from it. There is no thought here of making a new start, of ‘spreading the Lord’s table in a clean place’, of setting up the church in miniature, or of anything pretentious at all. The instruction is to the individual—to you and to me—“Let every one who names the name of [the] Lord withdraw from iniquity” (v19). All is on moral rather than on ecclesiastical lines. Certainly the passage envisages a companionship (see v22), but this is far removed from the pretentious nonsense of those who imagine themselves to be a kind of ‘new lump’ (see 1 Cor. 5: 7). Wherever there has been an attempt to set up something, to claim something, or to be something, the Lord has blown upon it. God recognises only one company and that is His Church. Furthermore, there is only one fellowship—“[the] fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1: 9)—and our business is not to pretend to be that, but to ensure that we are morally in accord with what is at its very crux, namely the Lord’s death.