Sunday, July 5, 2009

Communion -- it's NOT for 'everybody'

Last week, the Sojourners blog featured a post from a pastor who received a tearful mobile-phone message from a young woman who had been denied communion at her parents' church. Eventually, the "problem" was resolved when she finally was administered the sacrament in an airport chapel.

Here's the problem: The post didn't give any specific reason why this took place -- whether because the woman's parents attended church in a denomination that limited its observance of the LORD's Supper to adherents or she was involved in some gross sin that disqualified her. The post gave the impression that anyone who wants to should be able to take communion, anywhere, anytime.

On the contrary -- communion is in fact identified as the "believers' covenant meal," which (depending on your perspective) expands or limits participation. It of course represents a reminder of the then-upcoming death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ, through and by which we believers in Him receive eternal life.

For that reason I won't attend or even visit churches -- two examples are Roman Catholic and Church of Christ -- that hold "closed communion"; folks shouldn't have to jump through any additional hoops to be received as fellow Christians. (In such situations their polity, not Christ, is the issue.)

That said, it's also incorrect to say that anyone is welcome at God's table because the Scripture is clear that He initiates any relationship and that no one comes to faith in Christ on his own. We need to understand that Jesus conducted the Last Supper with His disciples, His most intimate friends -- and that, contrary to the practice of that day, He selected them. (That should give us an idea of His intent.) Once receiving Christ, people should renounce the sin that He brings to mind, which should already be happening if they're being properly instructed in the Scriptures; then and only then are they ready to receive the elements.

From 1 Corinthians 12:

27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the LORD. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the LORD eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Earlier today my church held its monthly observance of the LORD's Supper -- I generally have the privilege of serving as a steward -- and the person who officiates, usually the senior pastor, makes it very clear that only "born-again" followers of Christ were eligible to take it but that all of them were. (In fact, most Protestant churches practice similar "open communion.") But to do so properly, those who participate must understand the full implications as to what they're commemorating lest it degenerate into blasphemy.

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