There is a heresy that permeates evangelical churches. It is connected to fellow heresies; legalism and works-righteousness. It is ugly, and disturbs me whenever I see it occurring in our church. It is the heresy of not taking the Lord’s Supper. (Dum dum duummmmmm.)
I have seen this heresy in all of the churches I have been a regular attendee. People (evidently) think that because they are sinners they cannot take the bread and wine. More than likely, they are feeling extra sinful and therefore refuse the loaf and the cup. They are feeling unworthy, perhaps recalling the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” (Dum dum duuummmmmmm.)
Indeed, people should be extremely careful that they not take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Of course, Paul is not telling the Corinthians to take stock of their sins, and if their sins are heinous enough they should let the bread pass them by. When he says “unworthy” in 1 Corinthians 11:27, Paul is referring to those who are not in Christ. Unbelievers are unworthy of the Supper. The London Confession 30:8 says that “All ignorant and ungodly people who are unfit to enjoy fellowship with Christ, are equally unworthy of the Lord’s table, and cannot, without great sin against him, partake of these holy mysteries.” Because unbelievers do not have fellowship with Christ, they cannot participate in the ordinance of the Supper.
What about the guilt-ridden believer? Well, naturally (and supernaturally!) their situation is quite the opposite. Jesus said that whoever feeds on his flesh and drinks his blood “abides in him” and “has eternal life.” (John 6:54-57) The Supper, Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, is a remembrance and a proclamation of Jesus death, and this is most properly participated in by the Christian. Jesus says that we actually feed on him, not physically, but spiritually. His flesh is true food, and his blood is true drink. What Christian, no matter how sinful they’d been that week, wouldn’t want to proclaim the death of Christ? What Christian, no matter how their invisible transgression ledger is balancing, wouldn’t want to partake in Christ?
The London Confession puts it well when it says in 30:1 that the Lord’s Supper “was also instituted to confirm the faith of believers in all the benefits in Christ’s death, for their spiritual nourishment and growth in him, for their further engagement in and commitment to all the duties they owe him.” Guilty Christian! You are exactly the person who should be taking the elements; it will confirm your faith, it will nourish your faith, and it will spur you on to greater obedience. Guilty Christian, it’s not up to you to decide whether you’re worthy enough. In Christ you are eminently worthy. Feed on him.
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Thanks for this, Simon.
When I was a young man, zealous to do what I thought was the right thing, I let the communion plate pass me by. The reason was as you stated, I misunderstood the biblical teaching concerning eating and drinking unworthily.
My father who happened to be serving the communion elements that Sunday was concerned with my refusal to partake. Following the service, he called me aside, opened the Scriptures and explained as you have so well, that the phrase “unworthily” didn’t apply to those who were in Christ.
For me, it was a release, because I knew that I would never consider myself worthy based on my own merit. But I understood in a new way that I was indeed worthy because of the very event communion is meant to represent.
What a wonderful picture of God’s grace!
Don, thank you for sharing your experience, and your changed mind on the issue.