We live in a divided, polarized society which disturbs many of us, and it should. But I’m sure you realize this situation is not new. It’s happened before, even in the church. For example, in 1809 the divisions and competing factions in the church were so damaging and pervasive that a Presbyterian Minister, Thomas Campbell, called them a sword in the body of Christ “rending and mangling” it into pieces. He and others went on to found a movement for unity that eventually became the Christian Churches. He made that statement in a document that became a guiding force in our churches called the Declaration and Address in which he challenged the sectarians in the church to unite. Listen carefully to the first two propositions.*
Proposition One: that the church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one, consisting of all those who in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the scriptures …
Proposition Two: That although the church … must necessarily exist in particular and distinct … (congregations), locally separate one from another; yet there ought to be no … uncharitable divisions among them. They ought to receive each other as Christ has also received them to the glory of God … . In saying this he simply wanted to implement what Jesus prayed for.
Two thousand years ago Jesus saw the danger of division among his followers and prayed on the night before he was crucified, “Father, I pray for those who will believe in me …, that all of them may be one, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
A few years later the Apostle Paul saw division threatening the church at Corinth and that, furthermore, their sinful divisiveness went totally against an essential aspect of the Lord’s Supper. He said in 1 Cor 10:16-17, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” That one bread of life is Christ himself. We have one bread, one body, one table that’s big enough for all.
In this time of polarization we lift up the vision of unity as we partake of communion. In the past some churches have used just one cup and one loaf of bread to do it. In England some Christian Churches still do it this way. For most of us it is enough to let the individual wafers and cups symbolize that unity and to imagine a table big enough to include all who, as Campbell said, “profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the scriptures.”
*Declaration and Address and the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. Indianapolis: International Convention of Disciples of Christ, 1949.