One challenge always present in the church is a low view of the church by the church itself.
The church is often regarded as of secondary importance to the Christian life while our personal expressions of faith and obedience are regarded as of primary importance.
Our default setting, because of sin, is to think our life in Christ is largely a private and individual matter. This problem has only deepened in the "selfie" age. Self-definition and self-determination is the conditioned air of the contemporary church. It's cool but not refreshing in holiness. Personal grievances are regarded more highly than corporate obligations. Decisions we have made are regarded as more moral and binding than those made for us.
Christian music vividly displays this individualism. The most popular worship songs today are shrewdly written for a market which prizes the individual's own interior sense of God. Songs tell us what we feel about God or what we should be feeling. Unfortunately, the transcendent holiness of God, which compels holy emotion and heals disordered emotion, is displaced by a therapeutic session emphasizing the patient not the Physician.
In his book, Losing Our Virtue, David Wells, a master analyst of church culture, calls this "expressive individualism":
"Expressive individualism, which grew out of the Romanticism of the late eighteenth century and today has an especial affinity with our therapeutic culture, assumes that all people have a unique core of intuitions and feelings within them that is then coupled with the understanding that they have the inherent right to pursue and express these intuitions and feelings (p. 66). Expressive individualism, then, is driven by a deep sense of entitlement to being left alone, to live in a way that is emancipated from the demands and expectations of others, to being able to fashion its own life in the way it wants to, to being able to develop its own values and beliefs in its own way, to resist all authority. To be free in these ways, many have come to think, is indispensable to being a true individual" (p. 67).
One way to bring a heavy ax against this idolatrous tree is by attending the Lord's Supper with a right mind. In 1 Corinthians 10:14-17 our apostle says:
"Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."
Here Paul deliberately states that our partaking of the Lord's Supper, the one bread, reveals our identity as members of the one body. The Supper does not impress upon us the importance of the individual, unless, of course, we mean Jesus Christ. It certainly and primarily impresses His importance. Yet, even in doing this, Jesus wills that the importance of the corporate be impressed upon us. This is why Paul speaks of the "body" in the above passage with two different meanings: Christ's historical body represented in the sacramental sign and the church body represented in the action of many partaking of one bread.
Why does Paul make such a point in conjunction with the Lord's Supper? Because our participation in the historical body of Christ, crucified and risen, necessitates our participation in the ecclesiastical body of Christ, the church. The word "church" coming from the Greek word, ekklesia, which literally means "a called out assembly."
Notice the word "participation" in his statement above. This English word translates the Greek word, koinonia, a word usually translated in the Bible as "fellowship." In most cases in the New Testament, koinonia, describes a new social bond between Christians which comes with privileges and obligations (Acts 2:42; 2 Cor. 6:14). In scripture, Christian fellowship is a Kingdom blessing that subordinates both individualism and old corporate identities like nationalism and even ancestry (Matt. 12:50). This is a powerful fellowship, breaking old things that seemed unbreakable and bonding new things that seemed incompatible.
There is, however, more to this word, koinonia, this fellowship. Paul uses the word above to describe what takes place in the Lord's Supper. There is a "participation" (koinonia) in the blood of Christ and a "participation" in the body - person - of Christ. Thus the Lord's Supper is not just a bare remembering of Christ, we are actually enjoying fellowship with Him in the benefits of the gospel, mediated by his blood and body. Our fellowship with Christ in gospel peace instead of in legal accusation, signified in the Supper, requires Paul to speak of another body as well, the ecclesiastical body, the church. All who share in the peace of union with Christ also share in a union with one another, an ecclesiastical union (church) that is just as definitive and irrevocable as the soteriological union (salvation).
But let us be careful to understand, our union with Christ does not issue from our union with the church. It is the other way around. Our union with the church, becoming one body, issues from our union with Christ. What happens then at the Lord's Supper is a proper fellowship of both unions while keeping in mind the priority of one over the other. Yet there is an inescapable and unbreakable reality in the issuance union: to be in fellowship with Christ is to be in fellowship with one another. The scripture says, "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3).
This brings us back to what David Wells calls "expressive individualism."
If I keep myself from the Lord's Supper for preferential reasons as opposed to being kept from it by Providential reasons, I am aiding modern mutations and malfunctions in the body of Christ. If I am present at the Lord's Supper every time it is celebrated but largely absent from the life of the body otherwise, I again aid modern mutations and malfunctions of the body. The Supper is not a mechanism by which I punch my ticket, keeping up my record of obedience to the ordinance of Christ so I can then dismiss myself from body-life. It is certainly an ordinance, however, it is an ordinance whereby I by faith "obey the gospel" (2 Thes. 1:8, 1 Pet. 4:17) and renew fellowship with Jesus Christ in the peace of His covenant and renew fellowship with a covenant people nourished on His peace. This all keeps the Christian pilgrim moving out a world corrupted by individualism, a world with no use for the one body of Christ.