An engineer I met in Japan once talked with me about how he had come to trust in Jesus Christ. He shared that when he came to the church he was moved by how welcoming everyone was. He was welcomed to attend. He was welcomed to share meals together with them. He was welcomed to help out in various ways. And he was welcomed into people’s lives. He felt so welcomed, that after a little while, he said he could have gotten the impression that he was one of them. But every month when the church celebrated the Lord’s Supper, explanation was given that it was just for believers – it was the only time when he was ‘not welcome’ to participate. You would think it might have turned him off. In fact, it had the opposite effect. As he attended church each week, he felt himself growing nearer and nearer to Jesus and the teachings of the Bible, but at Communion he was reminded that there was a line he hadn’t yet crossed. He realized each time that he hadn’t yet opened the door of his life to faith in Jesus. And having yet refused to welcome Jesus’ work in his life by faith, he was not welcome to participate in the celebration of the work that the Lord’s Supper symbolizes. His story makes me wonder how many people have thought through who should participate in Communion and why. And why the Bible warns that participating in the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner” leads to guilt and even judgment from God.
1 Corinthians 11:27-31 says this:
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. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.
The problem that Paul was addressing was that the Lord’s Supper, which was intended as a rich expression of symbolic remembrance of Jesus’ body and blood, given for sinners at the cross to secure their salvation, had deteriorated into something quite different. Instead of the church unifying in their shared faith in Christ, people were divided (1 Corinthians 11:18) particularly along class lines as they ate (1 Corinthians 11:22). And little thought was being given to what the bread and the wine signified. Instead those with the means to do so were stuffing themselves and getting drunk (1 Corinthians 11:21) while the poorer among them looked on. Because of these abuses, most churches today evenly distribute a small token symbol of bread and wine or juice to people and explain the significance of the symbolism from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 as we do.
So how do we avoid participating in the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner?”
- The most basic application is that if you’re a believer, treat the Lord’s Supper with the seriousness it deserves by examining your heart for sin and prayerfully considering the full significance of all that the bread and cup point to. God hates meaningless rituals and spirituality without repentance.
- If you’re not a Christian, realize that the reason that we discourage your participation in the Lord’s Supper is that it blurs the line between faith and unbelief. Celebrating a salvation that you haven’t clearly received gradually makes you immune to the good news of the gospel and the step of faith God invites you to take.
- If you’re a parent, talk with your child about what the Lord’s Supper signifies and how serious it is. I believe allowing an unbelieving child to take the Lord’s Supper sets back the growing spiritual awareness of a child and makes it more difficult to understand their true spiritual condition.
- Some parents ask at what age their believing child should take the Lord’s Supper. I believe children can profess real faith in Christ at a very young age. But as someone once said, “If your child is young enough to still believe in Santa Claus, they’re probably too young for you to evaluate what they really believe about Jesus Christ.” We affirmed our children’s steps of faith as they grew, but had them wait until they were baptized before taking the Lord’s Supper.
- If you’re a youth or young adult and claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, I’d say that if you don’t have enough faith to identify with Jesus and his salvation through baptism, you should probably wait to celebrate the benefits of salvation in the Lord’s Supper.
- Finally, if you’re an adult born again believer from another church or Christian tradition, rest assured that our practice of the Lord’s Supper is a celebration of our unity together as the body of Christ and we welcome you to celebrate Him together with us.
If, like many people, you’ve never given much thought or study to the Lord’s Supper, why not take time this week to read what the Bible says about it in such passages as: Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-23, John 6:53-54, 1 Corinthians 10:16-22, and 11:17-34. May God give you an anticipation for His work in your life as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper this Sunday.
In awe of Him,