This question comes out of a recent conversation with our best buds on Communion and when, if ever, one should hesitate to partake. It is something I have been thinking about for some time. A side question of who exactly can participate in communion arises and that will be my main focus in this post. I will be using the phrase ‘the table’ to describe the receiving of and participating in communion. For those wondering what is meant generally by communion within a christian context and what I am meaning by, it will become clear as we go along.
Thoughts and issues:
- Anyone can physically go to the table and receive the bread and wine (often grape juice) – that is obvious. That anyone can physically walk into a church worship gathering and go forward to take at the table does not mean that they should. In fact they shouldn’t and they may actually be exposing themselves to trouble in doing this.
- Firstly no one gets to the table in the true spiritual sense except by their being an adopted child of God. By this I mean that there are spiritual realities and benefits at the table that can only be accessed if the person is of the faith and is receiving said benefits by faith.
- So by a kind of membership and by a kind of remembering coupled with believing in what is remembered, spiritual realities – blessings and graces, are available to them – the believing member who remembers.
- And there is a right way for such a christian believer to approach the table. In faith, remembering what it symbolises and in fact is, and remembering what has made it possible. Firstly, what it symbolises and is. It is two things and the interplay between them is necessary to keep in mind and beautiful to behold. The first thing that it is – is drama – a double re-enactment. On the night before Jesus was crucified, he took a cup and took bread and spoke of them as being his body and blood. Body and blood being broken and being poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Spoken and broken.
- Hours later he would be nailed to a cross where his body was broken and his blood poured out. Broken and bled. The table re-enacts and captures both these realities – the last supper and the last brutal hours of Jesus’ life.
- But another thing the table is is a family gathering. Brothers and sisters together sharing the communion they have together before their heavenly Father who sent his eternal Son to bring others into this family relationship. Jesus is, in a very real sense, our elder brother. The Father and the Son have made family membership available to all – by invitation only. The invitation is the Gospel. See my posts on the Gospel for clarity on what this actually means.
- If there are three components (and there are more) to the table this should help us answer the key question of who should participate in the table and what state this participation demands.
- Recapping, there are three components to the table a) the re-enactment of the Last supper of Jesus b) the remembering of the last hours of Jesus c) and it is the family meal for those doing the first two and rembering and receiving the benefits of them both with gladness.
- The answer to the question who can participate and receive is clear when we remember all three of these. The family members – the christian believers can and should enjoy the table and its benefits. They should approach the table in faith and in good conscience – being at peace with their God and his people. To approach otherwise is inviting trouble and the scripture speaks of physical implications of demeaning the table by a poor approach.
- The non-believer however should not participate at the table at all. The believers should support the non believing visitor in understandiing what is open to them and what is not and why? Actually, something greater than the table is open to them and through it and after it, the table becomes open to them.
- If the Gospel is the door to the house, the table is something enjoyed having entered the house by the door.
- This is actually the place of great confusion, often emotional confusion for many christians – unnecessarily so. Many christians wish for the table to be accessible to all – christian believers and non christians. They are motivated wonderfully but mistaken woefully. The motivation comes from the true understanding that Jesus is for all, that on the cross as his arms were forcefully kept apart through the nails of execution, he was opening his arms to all mankind to come to him for forgiveness, for restoration, for love and for life.
- All true. However they make the simple mistake of treating the table like it is an invitation to Christ. Christ turns away none who would come. Then none should be turned away from the table – Christ’s table. For such a person the wooden table and the wooden cross have become one and the same. No christian would turn away anyone from going close to the fountain of forgiveness – the cross and so it should be with the table. Such a conflation of two wonderful things is highly problematic and is in danger of leaving the seeking, wondering, searching non-christian with a sense of welcome but without reality.
- An inappropriate understanding leads to inappropriate guidance. When I say the non christian does not have access to the table, I am not saying he does not have access to Christ and his salvation. I am in fact saying and shouting that he has. And having received Christ’s salvation through repentance and faith, he then has access to a great many things, one of which is the table. First things first. Faith first, then the fruits of the faith. If you invite someone to the fruits without first encountering the gardener whose fruit it is – you are at risk of demeaning the fruit, the gardener, the faith community and the seeker.
- Communion is therefore exclusive. It is an insiders meal. Christ is exclusive. Exclusively for all.
- All outsiders may come via the wooden cross to the wooden table. But none may come directly to the table. What sense would it make to them. See the scriptures below – see their obvious context and apllication.
- Jesus said to his disciples – Do this in memory of me. The outsider, the non disciple is not asked to do this in memory of him. Of course I can hear the ‘proving’ testimony being advanced with haste. It goes something like this “My friend or I came to faith eventually in Christ after receiving or after a season of participation at the table, it is what drew me”.
- I delight in and don’t doubt your wonderful arrival in Christ. But the vageries of your journey, like mine with all its quirks should not be seen as normative or necessary or recommendable. That we arrived in Christ, the one who said Come unto me, is the repeatable, necessary, recommendable step.
- The table is exclusively for those who profess Christ (as Saviour and LORD). The table is a family meal. For the family of God in Christ – who have made this profession.
- Look at the verses – the activiity of partaking, breaking bread, is among the believers. Not among the interested, the seeker, the one who physical can go to the table but the one who has a rightful, blood bought, family space at the table.
Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
Acts 2:42 ESV
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
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. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
Acts 20:7 ESV
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.
Acts 20:11 ESV
And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Acts 2:42-47 ESV
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,