May 27, 2004

Who controls Communion? 1.3

Reader Greg of Innovation Ministries comments that the issue of who controls Communion touches on the assurance of salvation, or, as the Baptist mantra intones, "Once saved, always saved."
I agree with NeoTheolog (sharing the Baptist camp). The struggle I had in letting go of my desire to control the "dinner table" was the clarity in scripture that the Lord's Supper is for believers only. That just opened the "once saved, always saved" element of all this... which brought me back to "himself or herself."
Does salvation alone make one "worthy" (Paul's word, not mine) to receive Communion? I don't think so. He's speaking to believers here, for one thing. When describing the judgment that befell some who partook of bread and cup unworthily, he says that "a number of you have fallen asleep," a euphemism for death that he reserves for believers (who are awaiting "awakening" at the resurrection).

So if there's a higher standard for receiving Communion than salvation, what is it? For most of my Christian life I was taught that it was the absence of unconfessed sin. But recent study has caused me to question this.
When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! (1 Corinthians 11:20-22)
You've got to love those wonderful Corinthian brothers and sisters. Have you ever been to a potluck that looked like this? There are lots of problems at work here, but what is the root cause? I think Paul alludes to it in the next paragraph:
Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Therefore, 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. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthians 11:26-29)
Their gluttony and selfishness were the symptoms of a deeper sickness: a failure to "recognize the body and blood of the Lord." That is the standard of worthiness to partake of the Communion meal: Do you recognize the gravity of what you're doing? Have you paused to reconsider the sacrifice of the Son of God on your behalf that the elements (and your ingestion of them) represent? Does your comprehension of the Cross Event cause adoration or conviction or shame within you, and are you prepared to do something about it? If not, then you probably should reconsider putting wafer and wine in your mouth.

(Incidentally, I think this is an area where we "symbolists" have ridden the pendulum too far in our swing away from the transubstantiationalists. We've taught that the elements are "just symbols" so hard for so long that we've taken the depth out of the symbolism. It's hard not to recognize the body and blood of the Lord when you believe that bread and wine miraculously turn into sinless flesh and blood somewhere between the officiant's hand and your stomach. As I said before, our tradition of Communion could use some deconstruction...)

Which leads me to another aspect of this discussion: What is the role of the pastor in helping people to examine themselves, to recognize the body and blood? I need to think about this for a while, but Greg speaks with much wisdom when he writes, "It does seem to require more diligent interaction beforehand."


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