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Topic: “Nathan Finn”

The Lord’s Supper and Gospel Unity

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

On Sundays, I will be using this space as an opportunity to reflect publicly on the sermon presented.

My friend, elder, and professor Dr. Nathan Finn preached the sermon this morning at FBC Durham. His text, 1 Corinthians 11:17–34, is the only text in the New Testament to address specifically the Lord’s Supper outside the gospels—so it was fitting that it was the text for the day in which we partook of Communion together. As Nathan1 walked through these verses and expounded their meaning, he challenged us to evaluate our own congregation in light of the passage’s message, which he summarized:

The Lord’s supper is an ongoing reminder that within the church, the divisions in the world have been done away with.

His points were as follows:

  1. It is a shameful thing for a church to be divided by the priorities of the fallen world. (11:17–22)
    • Paul had been commending the Corinthians believers for some things they were doing well,2 but no more: the way the Corinthians believers acted when they came together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper was awful. They were divided.
      • Nathan suggested that Paul’s comment about the division being “necessary” was one of Paul’s typically sarcastic moves in the epistle—as I put it to Jaimie, one of Paul’s favorite rhetorical flourishes in the book is apparently to embrace the Corinthian position, only to turn around and hit them hard with the truth.
    • These divisions turned the Lord’s Supper—a proclamation of unity!—into an empty ritual.
    • He noted that the Corinthian response simply embodies a common pattern of the day: people were following the natural pattern of their culture, bringing their own food not to share (as in a potluck) but to eat themselves. As such the wealthy had much, along with leisure time, while the poor and working-class types had little to eat and little time. Even if unintentional, the result of following the world’s pattern was to cause a sharp demarkation between the rich and the not-so-rich… followed by a proclamation of unity! The visual hypocrisy is outrageous.
    • Nathan then challenged us: are there places where we unintentionally imitate the priorities and practices of the culture around us in a way that diminishes the unity we have in Christ?
  2. The Lord’s Supper was given to us a corporate proclamation of the gospel by the whole church. (11:23–26)
    • The Lord himself gave Paul these instructions, Paul records. An interesting tidbit, although not one that substantially affects the interpretation of the passage.
    • The church was not failing to practice the Lord’s Supper; it was simply going about it in a bad way. This, at least, is a good thing.
    • Nathan suggested that this suggestion tells us why we should practice the Lord’s Supper: doing so proclaims the Lord’s death. All of us, not just the preacher, are together preaching a visual sermon.
      • A sermon to the believer: a reminder of what Christ has accomplished for us and the shape of our hope.
      • A sermon to the unbeliever: an invitation to enter into faith in Jesus Christ.
    • We should celebrate the Lord’s Supper regularly and frequently3 because it is good news.
  3. We should celebrate the Lord’s Supper in such a way that it shapes our life together and accurately reflects the gospel it is meant to proclaim. (11:27–34)
    • Nathan began his treatment of this section by clearing up some misconceptions about the word “unworthy.” It is not a question of our sinfulness or merit in the time preceding our taking of the Supper: all of us are too sinful to ever merit partaking. Rather, Paul was warning against a very particular sin: taking of the Supper in such a way as to undermine the very meaning of the meal by creating division in the very symbol of Christian unity.
    • Nathan elaborated on his point about worthiness and sinfulness: we do not partake of the Supper because we might have been good enough, but because Christ took all our sins on himself. That is exactly what the Supper is about!
    • Finally, in verse 36 we are urged to self-examination (regardless of how one understands “discern the body”): what does the Supper mean for us individually and corporately?
      • Judgment came on the Corinthian believers because they magnified divisions instead of the unity of Christ. The purity of the church matters. God does not take sin lightly. But this warning should lead us not to despair but to the pursuit of love and good works!
    • Even if we are judged, when we are believers such judgment is not for condemnation but discipline. We should embrace it.

Finally, Nathan challenged the church to continually consider how we can more carefully “bend” on our own approaches to better serve the lost around us. In particular, he exhorted us to consider the ways our church might be unintentionally embracing typical patterns of social, economic, or ethnic divisions in the world around us, and to constantly fight to set those aside and demontrate the unity of Christ.

And then we proclaimed the death of Christ in taking the Lord’s Supper together, and it was good.

Those of you curious about my usual textual notes… they’ll be coming sometime later this week. Courtesy of a killer work week last week, I did not have a chance to get my translation done yet.

  1. He’s “Dr. Finn on campus” but “Nathan” at church; since this is a post about the church I’m referring to him as he prefers in that context. 
  2. Quite the qualified commendation, of course; see my paper here on 1 Corinthians 11:2–16. 
  3. Nathan makes no secret in personal conversation that he’d prefer to partake of Communion weekly, though it is not a hill to die on—a perfect summary of my own position as well. 

Contra Mundum: A Biographical Sketch of Athanasius of Alexandria

The following paper was prepared for Dr. Nathan Finn’s Patristic and Medieval Church history class.

I. Athanasius the Man

Even sixteen hundred years after his death, all orthodox Christians stand indebted to Athanasius, the man who stood contra mundum, “against the world.” Born in Alexandria between A.D. 296 and 298, Athanasius grew up in Alexandria, Egypt. As an obviously talented young man coming up through the ranks of the city’s famed scholastic system, he became a deacon and within a few years was picked by Alexander to accompany him to the landmark Council of Nicaea, where he wrote one of the definitive accounts of the gathering.

Athanasius came into his bishopric as the church underwent a number of substantial challenges in the first half of the fourth century after Christ. Internally, the church faced the threat of heresy from the Arians, ecclesiastical conflict with splinter groups such as the Meletians, and the task of integrating the growing ascetic and monastic movements into the life of the church. Externally, the church confronted the changes brought on by the new realities of first tolerance and then outright patronage by the Roman Empire. These challenges pressed the bishop into new roles, not merely a “local teacher” but now a “cosmopolitan representative of ecclesiastical and often secular authority.”1 Moreover, Imperial authority now touched on every action a major bishop could take, such that “Only someone with the intellectual power, obstinacy of will and longevity of Athanasius could stand against it.”2

By the end of his life, Athanasius had made significant progress in a number of these areas, though not without cost. Each of Athanasius’ five exiles were prompted by his opposition to Arian theology as the changing winds of imperial doctrine brought Nicene orthodoxy in and out of public favor. His fight was ultimately successful, however: the Arians were vanquished decisively (though not finally) at the Council of Ephesus only eight years after his death in exile. The influence of the Meletians in Alexandria had been thoroughly blunted. The monks, though still a distinct movement within the church, were tied much more closely to the bishop and local congregations than they had been when he came into office. Finally, his willingness to oppose the emperor even at great personal cost helped establish the independence of right doctrine from Imperial political authority, even if the point remained in contention and doubt for centuries. Read on, intrepid explorer →