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. (1 Cor. 11:27-29)
When I hear pastors tell young people they have to be sold out in order to serve God I often think, “Well that counts me out.” You’re asking me to do something that’s impossible. In Psalm 51 David admitted all he had to bring to the table, acceptable to God, was a “broken and contrite heart.” In Romans three Paul says that the law exists to show me that I cannot obtain its perfect and high standards. “Through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20). Jesus met that standard for me so that I don’t have to, again, because I can’t. In a wonderful sense, I now get to rely on his perfection as my own. I am free to now obey, as God has accepted Jesus’ obedience on my behalf. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30) Of course, this doesn’t mean I don’t strive to be holy and to honor God and to surrender daily to him. The difference now is, I don’t have to in order to be accepted by God. Jesus met that demand for me, so now whatever I do in obeying and longing after God is acceptable and embraced by him as even an imperfect sacrifice.
That brings me to communion, to the way I approach the Lord’s Supper. I readily admit that as a pastor for years I placed an unnecessary burden on my congregation at the sacred moment which for us was offered once a month. The instructions were clear and drawn straight from Paul’s admonition in 1 Cor. 11:17-19 that this not be done in an unworthy manner. Tagging off that verse I would say things like this, “Don’t do this unless you have confessed all your sins.” “This is so serious, Jesus shed his blood, gave his body for you, so make sure when you come up here that you are completely free of sin.” “Please, if you do not know Jesus, this is not for you.” (Now I look back and ask, “Then who is it for? – More on that in a moment).
I’ve recently taken on a brief role as interim pastor at a Presbyterian Church about an hour away from where I live. One thing I’ve discovered about the Presbyterians is they take the Lord’s Table extremely seriously. As I’ve led communion for this small congregation (Only an ordained pastor can offer it, that is how seriously they take it.) I’ve suggested something that is a far cry from what I told my folks in the past. I’ve said the following;
“Folks, if you do not know Jesus, come here today and make that right. This is exactly what you need. What greater opportunity than now as you take that bread, and drink from that cup to see and understand what Jesus did for you, a sinner. An elder would be eager to stand here with you as you respond to this invitation.”
Or, “Listen. If you have unconfessed sin in your heart, this IS for you. Come now, and deal with that. Jesus did everything necessary for you to be free.”
And, “Some of you feel you should not do this because you harbor bitterness toward someone in your life. You don’t know what to do about it. It even seems to act as a barrier in having fellowship with Jesus. Why don’t you come here right now, and tell Jesus that this is hard for you. As you hold that cup and the bread which represents his shed blood and sacrificed body, bring this pain to him and give over the struggle to him. Tell him you need help and will do whatever he asks you to do.”
Asking people to be completely free of sin before they can take communion is like a doctor telling you to come see him in his office for treatment, but you need to be better before you do. It makes no sense.
Jesus died and rose again for sinners, and that is all of us. Let’s be careful what we ask of others, whether in church or in our family. Rather than calling others to such high standards as a mark of spirituality, point them to Jesus who has freed us from the impossible task of pleasing God perfectly. God is most pleased when we put our faith in the one who willingly lost his life so we could find ours. The fact is, God accepts imperfect people because that is all there is.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:26-27)
“Many Christians do not feel worthy of taking communion because of their sin. But the Christian should realize that communion is for sinners, for Christians who are sinners. It is not that communion makes sinning okay. The Christian should always war against his sin, but Christians should not withhold themselves from the table if they are trying to repent of their sins, and are struggling to gain victory, but have not yet attained it. It is the struggle against sin that is an admission that we must depend upon Christ and his grace. In our struggle, we judge sin to be sin and war against it. It is precisely this struggle that is a vindication of our position with Christ and a manifestation of our need for communion as an act of dependence upon His work and grace.” – Matt Slick (The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry)