As we come to the Lord’s table, who should partake in communion? The Bible gives 2 stipulations. The answer…wait for it…only those who are first reconciled to God(believers) and also reconciled to others. But we need to answer from the Bible “Why?” As NoCo listeners and readers I am sure this question had already crossed your mind.
The Lord’s table is only for genuine believers.Why?
1) Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”(Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25) When the Lord spoke these words, He clearly didn’t have in mind unbelievers. Communion is an ordinance for believers to remember who Jesus is and what He did, specifically His substitutionary atonement on the cross. Only a true believer should partake of communion because it is a memorial of the broken body and shed blood of Christ. There is personal meaning and significance for the believer. For the believer the cross is the power of God but for the unbeliever it is folly(1 Corinthians 1:18). The cross to the believer is something he boasts in(Galatians 6:14), but to the unbeliever it is an offense(Galatians 5:11).
2) Jesus said, “for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”(Matthew 26:28) For the forgiveness of sins. Only believers have their sins forgiven because of blood of Christ(Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:22)
The 2nd stipulation Scripture gives is that the Lord’s table should not be taken lightly without first examining oneself.
“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.”
1 Corinthians 11:27-30
This is a serious matter. So much so that God’s judgement was to put the worst offenders to death(1 Corinthians 11:30). What does it mean to not take communion “in an unworthy manner”. As seasoned pastor John MacArthur writes in his MacArthur study Bible, “in an unworthy manner” means with an unrepentant heart or a spirit of bitterness.
So the believer is to examine himself and make sure there is no unconfessed sin and no relationship that has not been reconciled, that he is not harboring bitterness.
It has been my experience that many pastors don’t administer communion rightly. They don’t explain who it’s for, who SHOULD partake and who should NOT.
Now many will tell you it’s because they want as many as possible to be able to take part in such a beautiful ordinance. That’s fine. But we want to submit to the authority of the Word and so be clear about the stipulations delineated there.
So how should communion be administered? Pastor to pastor allow me to give you some basic guidelines.
First, clarity is of the utmost importance. You can never be too clear. Be very clear that communion does not save. Also be clear that communion is for believers only. So when the elements are passed tell the people that if you’re not trusting in Christ alone for salvation to just pass the elements.
Secondly, know your audience. For instance if your church is in a highly Roman Catholic area, tell them that the elements are simply symbolic and that it is not the actual body and blood of Christ(transubstantiation).
Furthermore, always preach the Gospel, namely the plight of sinful man before a holy and just God and the sufficient work of Christ in His death and resurrection. And preach the response to the Gospel, repentance and faith.
Also in light of 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 tell the believers to examine themselves before taking communion if there is any unconfessed sin or bitterness that is harbored. This is much neglected. The people need to feel the weight of this. I recall a lady once said that she was not going to forgive and yet still continue to partake communion. Those who were her pastoral leaders addressed the bitterness she was harboring, but never addressed the fact that she would not be allowed to partake communion until she reconciled. I mean why would they? They might lose her or even offend her. But those aren’t the real issues. The issue boils down to obedience, namely will I simply do what God tells me to do.
These principles are so important because there is much confusion around the Lord’s table nowadays, even among pastors.
I recall a pastor once saying during communion that anyone who wants to receive the grace of God can. That’s so mystical and unclear it can leave someone confused. What does it mean receive the grace of God? Does it mean that by partaking communion I can get saved? As a pastor you MUST take the time during communion to explain what it is, what it is not, who can take, who can’t.
Then there was someone who once told me that he had no doubt his 5 yr old daughter was a Christian and that they let her take communion, to which I replied that kids are very impressionable and they want to please their parents. So as a pastor it is essential to teach and train the parents you shepherd how they are to shepherd their kids regarding this issue.
No discernment. Everyone seems to be oblivious to it all. But simply because the Lord, the head of His Church, instituted this ordinance, we must administer it biblically, properly and seriously.